Noah Horowitz, CEO of Art Basel: “I don’t see a crisis in the art market in the immediate future” | Culture


Noah Horowitz’s face was – at the end of the second day of Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) – the mirror of the soul of the most important fair in the Americas, which this Sunday closed its doors with the feeling of having overcome a slowdown that , between geopolitical and economic uncertainties, stalks the market after 15 unstoppable years. Horowitz is CEO of the Swiss company Art Basel, with shows, in addition to here, where they landed 21 years ago, in Basel, Hong Kong and Paris. Sitting last Thursday in the botanical garden in front of the convention center where the event is being held, he looked relaxed. “Confident,” he said during an interview with EL PAÍS, that the good numbers recorded by most of the 277 galleries invited in this edition are proof of the “resistance” of the business.

A 44-year-old American, he was director of ABMB between 2015 and 2021, the year in which he left the company to briefly go to the auction house Sotheby’s and return in October 2022 to direct an ocean liner with 120 employees, a leader in its sector. Since then he has dedicated himself to bringing order to the organization. He has a global fair director, Vincenzo de Bellis, who they hang the four responsible for each of the appointments. In May they appointed the one from Basel, Maike Cruse, and in September the one from Miami, the gallerist Bridget Finn.

Art Basel belongs to the MCH Group conglomerate, and is to the exhibition and exchange of art what the Formula 1 circuit is. The simile is not gratuitous; not original either. He used it in the only interview about his involvement in MCH James Murdoch, fourth of six children of media magnate Rupert Murdoch (The Times, Fox News, Wall Street Journal…). His venture capital firm, Lupa Systems, entered 2020 as a “reference” investor in MCH. F-1, Murdoch said in May in a podcast, is “the best example.” “You arrive in a city and many different events are held in parallel. There is the race, which creates a culture around it, and people come from all over. When they finish, they pick up and go to the next city, like a traveling circus.” “Murdoch,” Horowitz clarifies, “is a very thoughtful businessman who understands what he can contribute from the point of view of a realistic entrepreneur. He adds a lot to the company’s board.”

Ask. Are you a fan of Succession?

Answer. I’m not going to answer that question. [Sonríe].

Q. To what extent do you consider Art Basel responsible for Miami no longer being considered, at least for this week, the superficial capital of America?

R. I cannot agree with that definition, but in any case, we are not the only ones responsible for that change, although we have played an enormous role as catalysts. Miami would not be the same without this fair. People used to have a distorted image of the city. Now it has become more robust in its cultural offering. The pandemic gave it another big boost. Many are moving here from places like New York. Many of the VIPs who came to the fair years ago now have second homes in Miami. There has also been a phenomenon of philanthropy taking root, which has allowed many new art centers to open.

Q. What reading do you make of this year’s edition of ABMB? Did you expect more? Less?

R. I refuse to speak in terms of what I expect or don’t expect before a show begins. But the signs have been very encouraging. In all my years working with Art Basel I don’t think I’ve seen so many VIP confirmations from big collectors, really important people. Many said in the last week that they would come. I attribute that to the fact that there are a lot of things happening in the world. Sales were really strong on the opening day, although gallery owners speak of a slower pace when it comes to closing operations. We’re talking about six-figure numbers. [más de un millón de dólares]as well as in the lower part of the seven [a partir de 10], but also above that. The younger galleries are also satisfied. There is, however, a little less urgency. All these analyzes must be taken with the caution that this is a fair with 277 galleries, each with its own experience, and a five-day event, open to analysis until some time after its closure.

A visitor to Art Basel Miami Beach, in front of the piece 'Coyota/e', by Hector Dionicio Mendoza, last Wednesday.
A visitor to Art Basel Miami Beach, in front of the piece ‘Coyota/e’, by Hector Dionicio Mendoza, last Wednesday.CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH (EFE)

Q. As a doctor in Art History, he has generally dedicated himself to the past, and now that he is in the business of envisioning the future… Do you see a crisis looming that will stop 15 years of growth in its tracks?

R. I don’t see there going to be a crisis in the art market in the immediate future. Although we have to be sober and realistic. And recognize that the market is going through totally volatile times. We are preparing the March report, and although I do not have the exact numbers, I can tell you that we will see a decrease in the total number of sales. I still don’t know how that will be divided between the auction business and that of the gallery owners. We are operating in a high interest rate environment. Not all regions are as active, but the US market is proving very strong and very resilient. We saw it at the New York auctions. There were works of less value, but the performance was very good, and they gave us an idea of ​​stability. So I don’t so much see a crisis on the horizon as a market that will be much more thoughtful about where money is spent. I feel optimistic about what the future holds.

Q. Is there room in the world for more fairs?

R. There is always room for a new art fair if it hits an appropriate segment of the market. That’s why I don’t want to answer in absolute terms. But if we look at the data from the collector survey that we published in the middle of the year, and the market survey, which we do with [el banco suizo] UBS, then it’s clear that people are attending fewer events than before. I think collectors think a little better about the places they travel to. Fairs that offer less added value, whether in sales or in another aspect, will feel more pressure, in an environment in which costs are rising, and in which there are more and more points of sale to choose from, whether for digital purchase or to attend an experience like ABMB.

Q. Does Art Basel’s expansion model imply a risk of excessive regionalization? That is to say: Latin American art stays in Miami, Asian art stays in Hong Kong, and European art stays in Basel and Paris…

R. We are observing it to some extent. The art world has grown a lot and there are more communities of collectors and separate swarms of local institutions. That is why I think it is healthy that not all important art fairs are totally international and that they acquire a regional identity to serve these groups. When a dealer from London comes to Miami, he wants to find American clients, and people from Dallas or Rio de Janeiro.

Q. In an interview with this newspaper last year, he defended that you don’t have to be rich to be a collector, but it’s hard to believe in this city, the playground of super millionaires…

R. There could be a debate about what it means to collect art. Is it just about buying paintings or sculptures or also clothes? We have designed a shoe with [la artista] Pamela Rosenkranz, and we sell it for the same price as a new sneaker. It doesn’t cost $2,500, but $170. [158 euros]. There are many ways to enjoy art, and that is also present in ABMB. People think that the works at the fair are very expensive, but you can also buy things for less than $10,000. I’m not so far off the mark as to suggest that even those prices are attainable for the vast majority of people subsisting on the median household income in Miami Dade County, don’t get me wrong. But they are accessible to people who might not think they have the ability to purchase at ABMB. If you dare, you will be supporting active artists with that purchase and you will acquire an object with a deep meaning; That seems beautiful to me. We must not forget that large collections were built paying much lower prices than the current market values ​​those pieces. You have to be curious about what is new and I believe that the art market and culture in general continue to reward curiosity.

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