In this month’s Meeting Montgomery’s Members, we talk to Sandy Angus, Chairman of the Montgomery Group. Starting his career in the exhibitions industry in the late 1960s, Sandy has embraced all areas of the sector. Now with more than 50 years of experience – and wealth of anecdotes to share too – we caught up with him to discover more about how the Group has become a leader in trade and consumer events on five continents.
Art Central Hong Kong is one of the first events in the Montgomery Group portfolio to open its doors to the public in a semi post-pandemic world. It’s exciting and heartening to see it all come to fruition. What does the opening of this fair, this year, signify to you?
Cancelling the 2020 Fair was one of the first events where we took the agonising decision to call off a sold out Fair. Therefore, to have to do so for a second time would have been a huge disappointment. Although Art Central 2021 will only have 30 galleries instead of 110, we felt it was vital to go ahead if it was legally possible to do so. Thanks to the subsidies from the Hong Kong Government to cover the hall costs and the support of local galleries, we will have an event which keeps the brand alive. It is reassuring that within three days of offering tickets for visitors we reached the 21,000 limit to conform to the limitations which have been applied to the Fair. After all the tribulations over the last year it is both a relief and a real sense of achievement to run the second Montgomery event in a year.
Online viewing rooms and digital offerings have increased exponentially within the art fair market over the past 12 months, what are your thoughts on these initiatives? Are they a poor substitute for reality or an opportunity to harness technological innovation to reach a wider audience?
The digital impact on the art world has been significant with a plethora of digital platforms offering online versions of the cancelled Fairs in the art world. These have been moderately successful and kept Collectors and Galleries in touch with the work of their artists. Everyone has said how much they are looking forward to seeing art in real time and meeting other Collectors and Curators from all over the world. However, nothing will be the same again and the backup of digital support over an extended period will add to the effectiveness of selling art within its community. We have a lot to do to ensure we don’t get left behind in providing a much more comprehensive service to our galleries, Collectors and sponsors which has been transformed by the acceleration of the digital revolution.
What interests you about the art market in Hong Kong? How is it different to Sydney or Shanghai where you have launched other reputable art fairs?
When we started Art HK in 2007 Hong Kong was seen as the entry point into mainland China, as well as having its own rich cultural roots. It also had the perfect venue (Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre) which gave our ambitions room to grow. Sydney and Shanghai offer different opportunities and there is no sense of competition between these Fairs. Shanghai is specifically a photo fair whilst Sydney caters to the very Australian needs which are specific and localised. The launch of Art SG in January 2022 will appeal to a very different regional market and won’t be seen by the market as competitive with Hong Kong.
How have you seen the art market change in Hong Kong since you established the Fair in 2007?
When we arrived in Hong Kong in 2007 it had a small number of international galleries and a relatively limited influence around the region. The arrival of Art HK and then its conversion to Art Basel Asia totally transformed the influence of Hong Kong and its attractiveness as a cultural centre. It has attracted all the major galleries from Europe and the US and created a fantastic Cultural Centre in West Kowloon. Our early initiative unquestionably helped to achieve that.
You have worked extensively in the contemporary arts sector since the 1980s and must have seen some extraordinary pieces. What makes you want to look at an artwork again?
Looking and Collecting are two very different activities. Collectors have a plan and an ambition. I have neither but buy pieces I like and enjoy looking at again and again. It is seeing different aspects, shades and meanings which are constantly pleasing. I remember seeing The Yellow Christ by Salvador Dali at the Kelvin Galleries during one of our events at the Kelvin Hall and having to go back whenever I visited Glasgow.
You are the Chairman of the Montgomery Group – a family business that runs trade and consumer events across five continents – and you have more than 50 years of experience in the event and exhibition industry. What three elements does an event need to make it a success?
The first necessity is to identify the opportunity in a particular market. There is a tendency to do this around an exhibitor profile, when meeting the needs of particular visitor groups is a surer recipe for success. The result has to be an event which excites all the stakeholders in the belief that it will fulfil the initial objectives set out in the launch. Finally it will need to deliver a broader value than just the event itself making it the central point of contact for the industry it serves throughout the year.
Do you remember the first event you were intrinsically involved in? What are your thoughts thinking back to that show / fair now?
The first show for which I was specifically responsible was the South African Medical Show in 1970. Apart from having Christian Barnard visit and speak just after performing the world’s first heart transplant, we had feature areas where the most sensitive minor procedures were being carried out. Would you have your piles injected in front of a group of uneducated strangers? For various reasons the show did not repeat. Health and safety among them.
Why did you decide to dedicate your life to exhibitions and events?
I fell into it at a very early age. When I was 18 years-old I used to deliver wine to Manchester Square from a Duke Street vintner and soon after that was painting offices in the square. You would go home in the evening and by the time you arrived the following morning your office would have been completely repainted. Bryan Montgomery was rather eccentric and demanding but intrigued me with the mayhem he created around the place.
What do you think is the Montgomery Group’s most ambitious show to date and why?
I guess the most ambitious launch we did was IFE (International Food & Drink Event). We had canvassed the industry who told us they didn’t want a show and that for the larger companies Anuga and Sial were all they needed. However, the foreign food groups all thought it would be a good idea and pledged to support it. So we invited all the British food companies to a series of lunches at the Savoy, mixing one or two enthusiasts amongst a largely sceptical group of companies, who said they weren’t interested but were intrigued by the guest lists sent out in advance and the promise of an immaculate lunch. A cross-section of enthusiastic press, celebrity chefs and national group leaders slowly converted enough British companies to give it a try. Our first show had 9,500 square metres and the rest is history.
If you had one piece of advice for a Montgomery Group new starter, what would it be?
Doing things which are likely to make a significant difference usually require a degree of risk. In few businesses is risk more prevalent than in the event industry. Taking those risks is an essential part of our future prosperity. I have followed the adage that it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission. To a new starter I would say ‘Catch the bug and you will never look for another job outside this industry.’ Be passionate about everything you do.