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The former lawyer was roped in to direct a quiet art fair in a small village, Basel, which he transformed into the center of the art world by turning collectors into celebrities, introducing corporate sponsorship, and supporting emerging artists. He also initiated and created the glamorous Art Basel, Miami Beach, as well as ShContemporary in Shanghai, and is currently at the helm of his new baby, Art Stage Singapore.  He took the time to discuss with arts interview how he makes decisions and their potential repercussions.

Interview by Shivangi Ambani

What are some of the key areas in which you have to make decisions as a director of an art fair?

You have to make decision on every level. On the one side, you are an entrepreneur, and you have to make decisions as a businessman. On the other side, you have to take decisions as an exhibition-maker. You also create a get-together platform, where you match-make the right people. You have to invest yourself in all these aspects, and then make the right decision. And I find this most fascinating.

What are some of the most difficult decisions you have made at Art Stage?

If you take decisions on a business-level, many can be very important, but they can be quite logical and clear. Difficult decisions are more often in the cultural direction – for example the selection of galleries. There are certain galleries, where you say “forget it”, but you have many galleries where it is difficult. Sometimes, it is hard to have to say no, but you have to do it. And you have to stand for it and explain it. You know these people, and you can hurt them with such decisions, but it is part of the game.

What influences decision-making when putting together an art fair?

For Art Stage, I try to travel through Asia and the Pacific to see as much as possible to form an impression of what is going on. Then I try to find what I want to show – the right artists, the right pieces and the right galleries. Especially, in Asia where you do not have a structured scene or market as you have in Europe or America, you have to work like an exhibition-maker. If I go to China, I have quite a good structure, in Indonesia, it is weak, and in Philippines, forget it! Nevertheless, I want to integrate all these in the show, so we have to find totally new ways.

Who are the stakeholders and what is the decision-making process you follow, particularly, when working closely with the Singapore government?

There are different levels. When it comes to content, the government takes no interest – I would also not allow it. That is absolutely no problem because we share a clear vision and we have full respect and confidence in each other.

On decision-making for content, it is important that you have an entire network of experts with whom you can exchange (ideas). At the end you have to take the decision, but I like to have a lot of discussions before I make one. For instance, if I select artists in China, I discuss a lot with the curator and artists until I have made an impression. Sometimes you have discussions to assure yourself, and sometimes to open new doors and give you new ideas – I think that is very important.

For more local things like the organisation, marketing and political direction, we have many open discussions with various government agencies. That is a very open dialogue and a flow of information and communication with a clear goal.

Can you recollect any decisions that brought unexpected results?

When I started to think about the content of this art fair, I was convinced there would be at the most 4-5 galleries from Singapore – the others do not have the quality. We had a gallery, that I said at the beginning, sorry – in my first impression, it was too commercial. However, as we had discussions we came to totally new ideas, new forms. At the end, this gallery made a project for the fair, which was the most discussed and respected one. Discuss with people and look at what you can do together – this can bring results which you would have never had if you only made decisions at certain levels.

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