Alexis Hubshman: “Scope is like a treasure hunt”

 Basel  |  26 May 2017  |  AMA  |  Tweet  |  LinkedIn

Scope is celebrating its eleventh birthday this year by launching Scope Haus, a new private art centre in Basel. Its president, Alexis Hubshman has managed to launch a fair that today enjoys widespread success. For this edition, 70 exhibitors have been chosen. Independent and atypical… Scope has stayed loyal to its commitments.


Scope has now been around for about 16 years. Its president, Alexis Hubshman, didn’t go to business school. He’s an artist… and an entrepreneur. He previously worked with a landscaping company and even invented a gadget allowing users to walk around on rollerblades when he was 20 years old. He went on to invest some of his profits in opening an art gallery in the Meatpacking district in New York City where no young galleries existed at the time. Three years later, he decided to create his own art fair, Scope. He has already curated shows on China, India, the Middle East diaspora…


Can you outline the context in which Scope has emerged?

We started at a beautiful space in Basel, where we were for more than ten years, and we’ve now evolved by taking possession of a beautiful Crédit Suisse building in the centre of town. For the next five years we have it every day, every month, all year. I first came to Basel to show emerging contemporary art – that was sort of where we started. The business started 16 years ago at a time when here weren’t really any satellite art fairs, as they’ve come to be known, so we were really one of the first. Our goal is to show new young emerging dealers and artists whereas the Armory, Art Basel, or Cologne are for the more established. So a lot of the galleries that have come to Scope are now showing at Basel, or Cologne, or Frieze, or the Armory. We are in a sense a launching pad; we discover, we find, we create the next level of gallery, and we’re very proud of that.
Which countries are you based in?

We’re in South Beach Miami, New York City and Basel. Two countries, three cities. We did the Hamptons, we were in Los Angeles… We did a lot of fairs early on, when we first started. Part of that was because we started as what I would call a hotel fair; we’d rent out a whole hotel. This was very intimate, kind of a sexy art show, and it’s certainly much easier to manage as far as production goes when you just rent hotel rooms. Now we build huge structures, about 10,000 m2 in South Beach alone, that we’re building right on the beach, looking at the ocean… It’s beautiful. So it’s been smart for us to focus on a market that makes the most money, and the best exhibitors and best collectors come. And really to focus on big well-produced events. So for us, Basel has become the next evolution, where we’re not building a temporary structure, but where we take control of a permanent structure.


Can you tell me about Scope Haus?

Previously named Clarahuus, the building is owned by Crédit Suisse. We’ve taken a long-term lease and we have approximately 3,500 m2 of exhibition space. We have another 500 m2 on the ground floor for different projects, which is nice and it allows ground-floor access. There are two more floors. Our goal is to create a think tank, a place where people experiment. It also allows them to do retail sales and fun events because we have great VIP spaces, great offices that people can use. We’re most interested in events that have an exciting cultural energy to them because we’re trying to create a well-known cultural centre. The exciting part of what’s happening this year is the formal launch of Scope Haus and the first event being Scope Basel. The idea is that while I do my art fair in Basel, we’ll be doing multiple other events during the whole year, and we’re calling it a cultural engineering property. So we’re doing events focused on fashion, on the theatrical… We have one that we’re working on called “Sexy Beast”, about tailored clothing and cool fashion. We’re also doing something interesting in July and August, with the Kaserne and the Theater Basel…


What can you say about the Scope Haus neighbourhood?

We’ve often presented our art fairs in the underground areas of cities; for example, I started in the port of Basel, an area with drug addicts and crime, kind of a scary area, let’s say. Nine years ago, we started working there, and now there are restaurants, there are bars, they’re about to build beautiful New York-style housing. And we did the similar thing in Miami. Before Wynwood became a big famous art place in Miami, we were the first big art fair out there, and I believe we were part of this cultural movement where artists started buying houses there, and restaurants started opening, and studios… So we saw early on what art fairs and art itself can do for an area, how they can bring prestige, and also more importantly, include the neighbourhood and respect the locals we work with.


At Art Basel this year, how many galleries are you going to show?

This year, about 60 galleries, and we usually have about 10 younger galleries which we call our breeder galleries – young new galleries to the business. So typically about 70… Right now, we’ve done a first few rounds of selection: we’ve chosen our first 55 galleries and we now usually have about two more rounds of choices because our curatorial committee meets every couple of weeks.


What are the new galleries?

There are quite a few I’d like to mention that are new and that we’re excited about. There’ll be Galleria Bianconi from Milan, Gallery Meno Parkas from Kaunas (Lithuania), Mylona Gallery from Lausanne, Léna & Roselli from Budapest, Zahorian & Van Espen Gallery from Prague and Bratislava, La Lanta Gallery from Bangkok… We really make an effort to work with galleries from interesting places showing new works. Part of what Scope is meant to be is like a treasure hunt. It’s one thing to go to a big fair, but what I personally get excited about is when there’s a gallery that most people haven’t heard of, from a place that most people are not familiar with thinking about in the contemporary art world. There will be also Angie Art Gallery from Cuba, Antonella Cattani Gallery from Bolzano… That should give you a good sense of different interesting places.


What will be the main difference this year for you as regards the art market?

Between the Trump election and the elections in France, it has been a tumultuous year with many galleries deciding what they’re going to do at the last minute, based upon who is going to be elected – for good reasons or bad reasons, I don’t know. What I’ve noticed this year is that people have been much more careful about the selection of the fair they do, and when they do it, or if they are even doing one. The political climate has been unstable and it inevitably affects the confidence of the art market. That’s my personal feeling. However, the cool thing about Scope is, for many of the galleries we work with, Basel is always an interesting entry point into our seasonal program. So a lot of the time, my European galleries will come to Basel first, then come to Miami, and they typically go to New York. It’s been a little bit insulated over 16 years. So for us it seems the trend of the politics hasn’t affected us hugely, but in general it’s a bit of a funny time, even for the art organizers themselves, trying to figure out where exactly the political wind is blowing.


What do you expect for Scope this year?

Well, it’s hard to know. You know, we always say you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t really make him drink… So we feel like what we do is pretty well organized, typically at Scope by the nature of the price point, between $5,000 and $250,000. After, it’s a place where collectors find an opportunity to buy things. So we’ve generally done quite well! We’ve got galleries taking bigger booths and it shows me that people are certainly willing to invest enough – I don’t know if this is true of other shows. Scope has many small booths, but I know that while I was selling 200 square feet last year, I sold 300 to 500 this year. So I’m very optimistic.


What would you say are the artist highlights at Scope?

We’re a curatorial team. What a gallery may show in Miami may not exactly be the perfect selection for Basel. So we’re very mindful when we’re advising, or curating or accepting a gallery for Basel that they focus on artists that are important historically, or that they have the right kind of materialism, or that the work possesses gravitas if you’re getting conceptual about it, that speak better to an educated European crowd. Contrast this with Miami where, with all due respect, we get not only that crowd but also first time buyers. It’s a different, perhaps sometimes a less sophisticated, crowd in Miami. Whereas in Basel, the collectors aren’t just looking for something to hang over their couch. So we really try to gear the galleries towards unique pieces, that are not going to be things you can find in every other fair. We really try to have the galleries make a statement. You know, we say: “Treat this as your gallery away from home, and as your most important exhibition of the year, and not as a place where you try to sell the stuff you didn’t sell all year in a garage sale”. We help curate the artwork according to what I understand an art collector wants. I also had a gallery for 10 years, as well as being an art-fair organizer, you know. I’m always optimistic that we sort of stack the deck. We really give our exhibitors every opportunity to sell well.




Scope. From 13 to 18 June, Webergasse 34, Basel.


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