Anni Oates – CEO/ Co-Founder of Art World Forum

Conceived in Singapore in 2016, Art World Forum is a global platform that looks to connect and build valuable networks between art professionals and business leaders. Through hosting a series of conferences all over the world Art World Forum provides unique information, marketing and networking opportunities. Their conferences welcome a diverse group of art investors, dealers, collectors, insurers, academics, practitioners, and art enthusiasts.  They have announced their primary aim is to be “established in each of the world’s key art markets where transactions and investments are taking place.” Here we speak to Anni Oates, their CEO and Co-Founder.


Can you tell us a bit about your background?

I started my career as an art practitioner and worked largely on art and design projects in Europe and Asia. However, I never felt fully confident in my own ability as a professional artist so I decided to pursue a career in art business. I spent a lot of time travelling, mostly around Europe and Asia and applied my skills to gallery, art fair and media environments. I found myself working for a Singaporean gallery which was interesting. Singapore is quite conservative and so it plays on a different dynamic to what I had been used to. The gallery launched a public art project which was supported by the National Arts Council which welcomed 5,000 people on its opening day.

I would say the format and scale of the project partly inspired me to think of my next venture (Art World Forum) where I put the experience I had gained into practice. Art World Forum puts on high quality, high value international conferences where we provide unique informational, marketing and networking opportunities to everyone from art investors, collectors, dealers, insurers, academics, practitioners and art enthusiasts. We are now recognised as Asia’s leading art business conference.


How was the idea of Art World Forum conceived and what is your main mission?

Art World Forum was conceived by myself, my former business partner and my brother. After numerous discussions with artists, dealers and collectors, the art market faces certain ongoing challenges such as a lack of transparency, audience development and original content. We wanted to be an international platform that is completely independent and neutral.

Our slogan is ‘Bridging Art and Business’ and that is what we do. We cater for art and corporate professionals keen on constructively discussing industry headlines, encouraging global networking and promoting innovation. Having hosted nine events in 5 cities in Europe and Asia we are now looking at our event calendar for next year. Overall, it is not about pitching individual companies, but more about highlighting expertise, strengthening relationships and contextualising the happenings of the art market at large.


What are your biggest achievements thus far?

Art World Forum started as a bit of a “test” to see how the market would respond to an event like ours. We were not sure if we would gain enough momentum or funding, but we quickly discovered that there was the demand and people were interested in what we were offering.

We have since followed the interest and support and we feel incredibly lucky to have been supported by, and have collaborated with, world renowned establishments, associations and artists like the Liang Yi Museum, AXA Art, Deloitte, the V&A, Ruben Pang and more. I definitely believe each growing event in our portfolio is a massive achievement.


How do you go about selecting the topics you base your events around?

It is a very organic process for us. We first have discussions with various people and then look at headlines, what people are talking about and what is affecting the art market at the time.

There are so many buzzwords in the artworld at the moment, blockchain being a big one. We take this into consideration as well, for instance in our most recent conference a lot of discussion centred around new technologies.

We also listen carefully to what our speakers and audience have to say at our events, if there is a topic that is being debated or picked up on a lot we will bare this in mind for our next conference.

Of course, our main objective is to keep it relevant to the art market by discussing the most cutting-edge topics. We also try to select a diverse range of speakers, whether it be well established players within the art market or start-ups, it is always interesting to see the conversation that stems from this.


You recently had the conference at the Saatchi Gallery, what were some of the major themes discussed on the day and was it a success?

Our most recent conference was our London debut at the Saatchi Gallery, with the theme “Emergence & Confluence,” held in association with START Art Fair. This event had a particular emphasis on innovation and creative growth, addressing the fruition of art-led initiatives, their contribution to the international scene and their ability to merge with the global art market.

As I mentioned new technologies are very much the hot topic and buzzword at the moment, therefore a lot of conversation inevitably centred around this. We looked at the key topics of art consumption, changing attitudes as well as new breeds of art fairs, technologies and collectors. There was an extremely diverse group in attendance which included law firms, art insurers, art advisors, collectors, buyers and players from top institutions. We always encourage lots of questions and discussions and this certainly happened in London which we were very pleased about. We are an interactive forum after all so it is always satisfying when the audience have questions of their own.

Millennials list of collectors


There is constant discussion and debate over the ‘art fair’ and how it might be losing its value. What is your view?

Personally, I love art fairs, their ambience and the abundance of art. It is a great environment to be in and can have a hugely positive effect for both galleries and artists. I do however, think larger galleries are repetitive in what they show and tend to play it safe which can be frustrating. There are instantly recognisable works shown in art fairs all over the globe time and time again, like Yayoi Kusama for example. As much as I appreciate her work it becomes too much when you are seeing the same thing every year.

I have been to Frieze Masters for the last two years, this year I thought to myself they have not even changed the layout of the booths. I think there is definitely room to be more creative and varied.

At the same time, having said this, it is hard to risk it all and do something completely new when art fairs like Frieze are doing consistently well. There is nothing really pushing them to change.

I believe that art fairs should be scaled down in some cases and variation should be brought in. They are extremely expensive to take part in and I think a lesser fee would encourage smaller galleries to take part, subsequently adding diversity to the works on display. I would like to see new, emerging artists’ work showcased rather than the same thing over and over. I think this is a consensus in the art world and it was also something discussed by Deborah Harris, (Gallery Consultant and Former Deputy Director of the Armory Show) at our London forum.


Can you tell us about any of your upcoming events?

We are currently working on our line-up for 2019. We will be hosting Art World Forum in London and Singapore and we are also in further discussions about hosting editions in additional locations.

It is an exciting time for us as we have been approached by other organisations who are interested in Art World Forum, whether simply collaborating or producing customised events. We regularly update our social media channels so it is best to keep an eye on those and also sign up to our newsletter to receive our most up to date announcements, including where we will be hosting events in the coming year.



How do you hope Art World Forum will progress in the coming years?

Our aim is to be established in each of the world’s key art markets where transactions and investments are taking place. There is an increasing demand for networking events that include stimulating debate and that is what we aim for with Art World Forum. We plan to continue to raise our own profile along with other significant players that are currently disrupting the art world. We hope to expand our events and source new sponsors as well as partners at large. We will continue to build Art World Forum to a higher level and encourage open discussion and valuable conversations. It is an exciting time for us so please do keep an eye out on our social media channels and newsletters!


Cover image: (c) Anni Oates, Art World Forum