Art Basel Arrives in Miami with a New Structure and Hints about Its Future

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When Noah Horowitz rejoined Art Basel a little more than a year ago, there were questions about what exactly the fair’s prodigal son had in store for the business. Horowitz’s newly created title, that of CEO, seemed to provide some indication of Art Basel’s growing corporatization. But that corporate structure had already begun under his predecessor, Marc Spiegler, whose role had been global director.

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Protestors outside a convention center with the logo for Art Basel on it. Some hold a large banner that reads 'LET PALESTINE LIVE.'

Several months before Horowitz returned, Spiegler named Vincenzo de Bellis, a curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, to the newly created position of director, which gave him oversight of all Art Basel’s fairs and exhibition platforms globally, a role in which he continues today. Then, this year, Horowitz restructured the company further, naming a dedicated director for each fair, all reporting to de Bellis, and a dedicated head of business and management who reports to Andrew Strachan, a 12-year Basel veteran now serving as general manager of fairs and exhibition platforms.

But a more important indicator of the Swiss fair’s future may lie in its announcement in September that it had hired Hayley Romer, former publisher and chief revenue officer of The Atlantic, as chief growth officer, and Craig Hepburn, former head of digital at the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), as chief digital officer. Reading corporate tea leaves can often be a fool’s errand, but those very not–Art World hires would appear to augur a new approach, a point not lost on Horowitz.

“When you’re in a leadership role, that role has to change as the business grows,” Horowitz told ARTnews last week. “Of course, I want to make sure that we are working closely with our gallery clients and collectors, both emerging and established, but the day-to-day maintenance of that has been passed to our team. My job as CEO is to put people like Craig and Hayley in place and to make sure our teams, internally, work well with each other.”

Romer has spent her career courting luxury and high-end corporate clients, at Forbes Media as head of luxury advertising, at media giant Condé Nast as executive director of corporate sales, and at Atlantic Media, where she was initially hired as the head of luxury advertising. Two decades’ experience in those roles builds a deep rolodex, not to mention proficiency in building media brands.

Hepburn, meanwhile, worked at Microsoft, Nokia, and Indian telecom company Tata Communications in various high-up roles manning digital marketing and consumer engagement prior to joining UEFA. But it was at UEFA that Hepburn created a “digital-first mindset,” along with building interactive services, a streaming platform, and the company’s nascent Web3 strategy.

Hepburn described his digital philosophy at a 2019 conference hosted by SportsPro, which covers the business of sports. Hepburn lamented that the proliferation of streaming services had made it difficult for consumers to find the sporting events they wanted, even if they subscribed to the service that streamed them. The future, he went on, was for the sector to consolidate so that streaming could become truly “frictionless” in the way that dominant apps like Uber or Airbnb now are.

“These are problems that, quite frankly, consumers and fans will not put up with,” Hepburn said at the 2019 conference. “We need to figure out a way in the industry to make OTT [over-the-top] frictionless to fans, where it feels really smooth. That will be the biggest challenge.”

BASEL, SWITZERLAND - JUNE 13: (L-R) Noah Horowitz, Vincenzo De Bellis, Filipa Ramos, Giovanni Carmine, Samuel Leuenberger and guest attend the Art Basel 2023 press preview at Messe Basel on June 13, 2023 in Basel, Switzerland. (Photo by David M. Benett/Jed Cullen/Dave Benett/Getty Images)

Noah Horowitz (L), Vincenzo De Bellis, Filipa Ramos, Giovanni Carmine, Samuel Leuenberger and guest attend the Art Basel 2023 press preview on June 13, 2023 in Basel, Switzerland.

Jed Cullen/Dave Benett/Getty Images

Horowitz’s appointments have not gone unnoticed among the art dealing community. “I think what you’re seeing under Noah is a kind of next level professionalization of the art fair business,” Sean Kelly, who founded his eponymous New York gallery in 1991, told ARTnews. “He’s brought in art world experts who are well respected in the gallery circuit like Bridget Finn and Maike Cruse, and people like Romer and Hepburn who are bringing a level of professionalism to the business side. It’s very analytical. He’s strategically putting building blocks in place that will benefit the future of the fair.”

What does all that mean for Art Basel? It would appear we’re heading toward a world where Art Basel the brand is as important as Art Basel the fair. It wouldn’t be out of step with the rest of the art world.

After all, the line between fine art and luxury has been all but erased in recent years. Every season of fashion week offers abundant artist collaborations; a slew of startups are developing platforms to turn paintings into other luxury investment vehicles; Hauser & Wirth is hard at work building out a luxury hospitality business; and Gagosian famously flirted with a sale to French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is enjoying a licensing bonanza, producing everything from Édouard Manet–inspired Amish furniture to Dr. Martens boots emblazoned with Hokusai’s Great Wave. And it’s not just businesses, artists too are riding the wave: Kehinde Wiley is selling a limited-edition soccer ball this holiday season, while the Museum of Modern Art Design Store is selling Yayoi Kusama pumpkins.

Then, consider that Art Basel has become one of the largest media platforms in the art space almost by default. Its 2.4 million followers on Instagram may be a far cry from the hundreds of millions following Beyoncé or Taylor Swift, but it’s nearing striking distance of the Met (4.2 million), the Louvre (5 million), and MoMA (5.8 million), which top the list for art. As longtime gallerist Wendy Olsoff put it recently, “Art fairs are big business now.”

“It’s a completely different industry than when I started 40 years ago,” Olsoff told ARTnews (she cofounded PPOW Gallery in 1983). “I think the fairs, and the galleries and the museums are grappling right now with how to adjust to the pressures—financial, sociological, and political—of the new digital era.”

However, if Horowitz has an Art Basel streaming service in the works, he isn’t letting on. When asked if there were designs for a new Art Basel media outlet, Horowitz mentioned that the company already publishes the annual UBS Art Basel Report.

“With the assets we already have, there is so much potential. When you bring on someone as talented as Hayley, it’s all about giving them access to our assets and our clients and seeing what we can accomplish,” he said.

The changes then appear as a strengthening of Art Basel’s underlying structure, setting the foundation for what comes next, whatever that may be. It speaks to Horowitz’s reputation as an astute critical thinker and his too-often-overlooked background: he’s an art historian and an economist.

“A fresh lens is a great way to have somebody reevaluate the same thing, and Noah, who stepped away from Art Basel for a short while to work at Sotheby’s, has that, on top of an intimate knowledge of the fair,” art dealer Anthony Meier told ARTnews, noting the similarities between Horowitz’s restructuring and Larry Gagosian’s formation of a board of directors in 2021. “It’s about the legacy of the brand. The goal is for the brand to outlast any one individual.”

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