Messe Schweiz, parent company of Art Basel, to run Miami Beach Convention Centre

Critics question their priorities, one city commissioner calling their plan to manage the venue “like the fox in the henhouse”


Messe Schweiz, the Swiss company that owns Art Basel and its sister fair Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB), is in the final stages of negotiations to secure the management of the Miami Beach Convention Center that hosts its US edition.

On 16 July, city commissioners voted 5 to 2 to initiate contract negotiations with the Swiss firm, which has teamed up with management company Global Spectrum to replace SMG, the centre’s managers since 1990. The three-year contract is believed to be worth as much as $560,000 and a deal could be finalised as early as 10 September.

But some city commissioners believe that Messe Schweiz acting as both convention centre manager and fair organiser, represents a conflict of interest. “I have been called and had emails from over 20 users of the centre and they are all unanimous about their concerns. It’s like the fox in the hen house,” says commissioner Jerry Libbin, also an independent financial consultant, who was one of the two that voted against Messe Schweiz.

While ABMB is the largest art fair held at the convention centre, the Latin American fair Arteamericas is also held there in March and the Antique Jewellery and Watch Show, run by DMG World Media, shows there every October. Major public events at the centre include the annual International Boat Show in February. “They claim they can bring 500,000 more people to our shows,” says Mr Libbin. “Where are those people coming from?”

However, some fair organisers see this new partnership as a natural evolution of the industry. “With fairs becoming increasingly expensive to operate, shows need an additional source of support like a large conglomerate partner,” says Meg Wendy, who has recently sold her fair management company.

A fair organiser that also manages a major show facility is not new. Chris Kennedy, head of Merchandise Mart, oversees many fairs, including Art Chicago. “The art market is best served when the show producer runs the facility as well,” he says.

Christian Jecker at Messe Schweiz said that they “did not see any conflict of interest, we see huge synergy potential,” adding that the company already manages centres in Basel (where Art Basel is held) and Zurich.

Individual dealers approached by The Art Newspaper would not comment on this new venture by Messe Schweiz. “It’s understandable,” says New York dealer Richard Feigen. “If dealers say the wrong thing, they may not get back in the fair.”

o The beginning of the end for satellite fairs?, p56

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Art Basel’s parent company to run Miami venue'