The year 2017 has been a big year for Miami and its artistic community. Not only has the city survived hurricanes, it has also seen two of its museums reopen their doors. Noah Horowitz, Director of the Americas of Art Basel, talks us through his 2017 show. Interview.
Noah Horowitz, like many fair directors, is one of the globetrotters on the international art scene. He travels extensively and runs Art Basel’s Miami Beach show from the company’s new offices in Manhattan. Horowitz had a varied background before coming to the world of art fairs with experience as an academic, author and entrepreneur. Born in the suburbs of New York City, he spent nearly a decade in London, where he completed his Ph.D. in Art History at the Courtauld Institute of Art, and in 2011 published Art of the Deal with Princeton University Press. Following his stint as director of the online-only VIP Art Fair, he breathed new life into the Armory Show, which he ran from 2011 to 2015. In the summer of 2015, he joined the predominantly European Art Basel team, managing business in the Americas and overseeing the Miami Beach show. The 2017 edition is the third fair under his leadership…
The Convention Center where the fair is held is currently undergoing renovation…
Indeed. It’s one of the most important aspects of the evolution of the fair up to now. The process, which began last year, is taking place over a three-year period and is set for completion in 2018. While the west lobby and some of the exterior areas are still under construction, the halls where the show actually takes place are now complete. This has given us the opportunity to roll out an entirely new show design for the fair this December. It is the first major change in more than a decade, dating back to when we expanded from two to four halls. We’ve also been working on updated scenography with Netherlands based Tom Postma Design. The new layout offers about 10% more space, but the key thing is that we are not adding more galleries – actually, there’s one less than last year. We’ve focused instead on enhancing the entire experience and improving the flow throughout the halls: wider aisles, the addition of two beautifully designed plaza areas, more space for the galleries and within the collector’s lounge, and both better and more abundant food and beverage options. Collectors who regularly come to Art Basel’s Miami Beach show will see a clear difference. I think it will be quite striking.
You have also decided to bring a new curator onboard for your Public sector…
Yes. Philipp Kaiser has joined us as curator of Public, the sector dedicated to outdoor sculpture and installation in Collins Park. He has succeeded Nicholas Baume who steered this initiative over the previous four editions. Philipp is brilliant addition to the team and his engagement with us follows a career in which he has served as Director of the Ludwig Museum in Cologne and, more recently, as both curator of the Swiss Pavilion at the Venice Biennale and curator of the inaugural exhibition at the Marciano Foundation in Los Angeles earlier this year.
This year’s fair comes at a time where several museums in the city are opening or reopening…
This is a very important moment for Miami’s artistic community. Shortly before the fair opens, the Institute for Contemporary Art (ICA) will inaugurate its new permanent home in the Design District and The Bass has just reopened after a multi-year renovation. These are both huge additions to the city’s art scene and their presence and high-caliber programming will be felt both during our show week in December and then beyond in an ongoing basis throughout the year. Such additions are critical for us as we recognize that our visitors come not only for the fair, but also for the city’s wider cultural offerings – hence our effort to work closely with these, and other, cultural institutions to make the entire week as compelling as possible.
Do you think that Art Basel has played a role in the development of the artistic ecosystem of the city?
Absolutely, but it’s critical to recognize that this is something we’ve achieved only by working hand-in-hand with the city’s cultural community since the inception of our show. Immense support from a dedicated group of local collectors was essential to this transformation and continues to the present day: Irma and Norman Braman, Ella Cisneros, Rosa and Carlos De la Cruz, Marty Margulies, Craig Robins, Mera and Don Rubell, Debra and Dennis Scholl, and Darlene and Jorge Perez, more recently, have all played a fundamental role in this evolution. But it goes beyond this as well, via a close and collaborative rapport with successive city administrations, local businesses and other players such as Alberto Ibarguen who was the publisher of the Miami Herald when we started and now serves as CEO of the Knight Foundation, a vital funding channel for the local arts scene. The net result is that more than 15 years after the inception of our show, a progressive cultural community is thriving.
All this is part of the idea of “hubs”…
What makes the atmosphere in Miami different?
The atmosphere in Miami Beach is heavily influenced by Latin America and the Caribbean. It’s a gateway city and, in many respects, the de facto capital of South and Central America. People residing in those countries vacation in Miami, have homes in Miami, and send their children to school here. This was of course taken into consideration when Art Basel was seeking to expand its presence in the Americas and it stands as one of the many differentiating factors that distinguishes our city from other major hubs such as New York or London. I would go so far as to say that our show in Miami Beach has played an integral role in elevating Latin American art – and the Latin American art world, more generally – onto the international stage. South Florida also has very close ties to New York – as many New Yorkers have a second home in the corridor between Miami and Palm Beach. The success of the fair clearly owes a lot to this dual relationship, both with Latin America, but also with New York and more broadly, with the rest of the United States.
As part of a global brand…
Absolutely, because in the end we serve a global audience. Over the course of a week, you can see the latest artistic trends not only in the Americas, but from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia as well. For example, we have several new galleries from China and Japan this year, such as Space Antenna (in Shanghai) as well as Takuro Someya and Taro Naso (both in Tokyo), and also Sfeir-Semler (in Beirut and Hamburg), arguably the most important gallery in the Middle East. We work tirelessly to foster a delicate balance between having a global voice and distinct local identity. At least half of the galleries exhibiting at Art Basel in Miami Beach must have a footprint in the Americas – the same policy that we have implemented for our shows in Basel and Hong Kong, vis-à-vis the European and Asian art markets. So, even if the art world is becoming increasingly globalized and interconnected, we are very careful to ensure that each fair is unique and relevant. We want to guarantee that there is plenty to discover at the highest level of quality, and recognize that ambition and scholarship is paramount to the continued success of the Art Basel platform.
What is the profile of collectors attending Art Basel’s Miami Beach show?
The strength of Art Basel is its international depth; we are a global platform aimed at art enthusiasts from all over the world. For the Miami Beach show, the majority of collectors come from the Americas: New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Toronto, Boston, Washington DC, as well as Mexico City, Guadalajara, Bogota, Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and beyond. But there are also many key collectors and institutional figures who come from Europe, the Middle East and Asia – the UAE, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and Australia, especially as of late. After attending Art Basel in Hong Kong, for example, we’re finding that increasing numbers of influential patrons from this part of the world are now going the extra mile and visiting us in Miami Beach. It works both ways: last year, we saw a growing number of American collectors and museum groups at our show in Hong Kong – including the New Museum, LACMA and SF MOMA. In Miami Beach, meanwhile, we typically receive in excess of 100 museum delegations. We also have a demonstrated ability across our shows to bring new collectors and patrons into the market. The contacts that our exhibitors gain as a result of this are invaluable, especially as there’s been a notable and much talked about slowdown of traditional gallery visits recently.
Why are there so many satellite events taking place during Art Basel in Miami Beach?
I think it is related to the size of the American market and the prominence that the week has in people’s minds. Art Basel in Miami Beach is the most important annual week for contemporary art in the USA, which is why so many satellite events take place during this time. In any given year there are perhaps 15 to 20+ commercial shows and seemingly countless events running parallel to Art Basel. This creates a lot of noise around our show, but it has also served to underscore the ongoing dynamism of the week.
Do you work with any satellite fairs?
No, we only focus on delivering our own show to the highest possible standard.
What impact have the hurricanes had on Miami Beach and on the fair?
The city was very lucky that there was not more damage in the wake of Hurricane Irma this past September. Of course, there were high winds and fallen trees – Miami Beach was without power for a number of days – but overall, the damage was far less than we might have feared. The Convention Center, meanwhile, did not suffer any major damage and the halls will be in perfect shape for the show, however there were some delays to the renovation of the facility which has forced us to relocate some of the services on site. Hotels almost all reopened less than a month after Irma and the museums are also up and running as usual. The city was very resilient throughout this process; everybody really came together and the leadership from the Mayor’s Office on down was exceptional.
Has your perception of the art market changed since the release of your book The Art of the Deal?
I sometimes feel as if I’m now living – through my role with Art Basel – many of the developments that I forecast in my book. The event-driven nature of the art world, for instance, is something that I feel every day and dictates many of my professional activities – from attending our own fairs, to visiting biennials and keeping continuously abreast of gallery exhibitions, off-site projects, auctions and so forth. It’s also been rewarding to witness how some of the art forms I analyzed in depth – like film, video and various conceptual tangents – come to life through our shows, whether in gallery booths or via sectors like Public in Miami Beach (where we’ll be showing a wonderful Cyprien Gaillard video this year) or Unlimited in Basel, which includes scores of ambitious installations of this kind of material. We are deeply committed to supporting this kind of work and go to great lengths to coordinate programs at our shows to supplement and support it as well as providing a record for audiences who cannot necessarily attend our shows. In sum, I wouldn’t really say that my perception of the market has changed since the release of my book, but I certainly have a far greater appreciation for the nuanced reality of the business and all that goes into putting artworks into the world and ensuring that they resonate far into the future.
What about the asset aspect of art that you described in the text?
With prices continually increasing, it has become necessary to put more thought into how you understand your collection and the various elements in play – from financial considerations to conservation issues, etc. As my professional career has taken shape, I’ve become a little more distant from the academic discourse both out of necessity given the rigors of my job, but also because it can be limiting, anchored mainly to a narrow band of artists that trade heavily in the auction sphere. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, per se, but the art world that we inhabit at Art Basel is considerably broader and more engaging, encompassing literally thousands of artists working across a vast range of disciplines and all levels of collectors, from first time buyers to leading collectors whose patronage is vital to the wider art ecosystem.
Can you tell us about Art Basel’s Art Market Principles and Best Practices that you have recently presented…
Sure. We believe that trust is an essential element for the continued development of the art market. With the publication of this new document, we seek to put forward a list of clear, fundamental principles to which our exhibitors – who now number more than 500 annually – agree to adhere on an ongoing basis and also spell out how we will be dealing with cases of alleged criminal activity that concern our exhibitors. In the end, we believe that such measures will serve to enhance the relationship between galleries and collectors, and thereby bring more players to the market over the longer term.
Do you think that there is enough independent analysis produced on the art market today?
Art Basel is highly committed to this issue. We believe that the more analytics and high quality research there is available, the stronger the market. This year, in partnership with UBS, we released our first annual report, The Art Market, by arts economist Clare McAndrew. It is a comprehensive and industry-leading evaluation on the state of the international art trade, assessing annual sales volumes and values across different geographies and niches. We will continue to develop this report in the future, trying to further clarify some of the key issues concerning the market – from online sales to the fundamentals of the gallery business. Clare is conducting this study entirely independently. Our only involvement is to provide access to dealers and collectors, so that her data sample of professionals is as representative and complete as possible.
With VIP Art Fair, you were among the first to propose an innovative platform for selling art online…
With VIP Art Fair we weren’t trying directly to sell art online, we wanted to simply replicate and translate fairs into a digital model based largely upon the concept that so much of today’s business already takes place online as sales are mediated via jpeg and digital previews. What we created was a platform in the same sense that Art Basel is a platform. We connected collectors with dealers, but we played no direct role in the sales process. Even though we faced technical difficulties during the launch, the platform nevertheless demonstrated significant potential in generating leads and making introductions. These are lessons we’re applying at Art Basel where we continue improving our online presence through a new website, a new app and a stronger push on social media where we now have over 2 million followers.
What do you think about online trading platforms in their current form?
There are many ways to engage with the online art market. On the whole, none of the pure-play e-commerce platforms have firmly established themselves and the field is littered with start-ups that have come and gone – including VIP Art Fair. One could accurately say, I think, that Instagram is in fact the largest and most effective platform for sharing and potentially buying art online. Our guiding focus at Art Basel has tended to revolve around how to best leverage our immense international network for both benefit of the galleries we work with and also our institutional partners. For example, we take great pride in how our crowdfunding initiative with Kickstarter has raised more than $2 million for over 60 not-for-profit institutions around the world over the past couple of years. But this is only one piece of the puzzle and there is certainly much more to come in the future.
The Art of the Deal. Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market, 2011. English, 400 pages. Princeton University Press. press.princeton.edu