In a surprise announcement today, Marc Spiegler will step down as the global director of Art Basel next month after 15 years at the helm of the world's leading art fair brand. Spiegler will remain at Art Basel's parent company MCH Group in an advisory role for seven months before leaving to "explore the next phase of his art world career", according to an official release.
He is replaced by a familiar face: Noah Horowitz, Art Basel's director Americas from 2015 to July 2021, will rejoin the company as chief executive on 7 November. Horowitz left Art Basel for Sotheby's to take up a newly created role focusing on private sales and gallery services. His sudden departure was interpreted by many as a boon for auction houses at a weakened time for art fairs during the pandemic.
But this stint has proved a short one. "I had an awesome time at Sotheby's and saw a long and fruitful career there, but to lead Art Basel is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Horowitz tells The Art Newspaper. Despite his brief run, he says it was "eye-opening" to work in the "other side" of the industry. During his time at the auction house he launched a primary market channel to sell work directly from artists' studios, and also worked across its art-lending services, helping galleries access art-backed loans.
This experience will prove vital for Art Basel's next chapter, Horowitz says, adding that he now hopes to redeploy some of these strategies "in a different direction" at the fair company. His return comes as "boundaries between old and new in the industry are rapidly shifting", he says. This is evidenced in the change of title from "global director" to "chief executive", indicative of "how the organisation is continuing to evolve and now requires someone with a different skill set".
While it is early days and Horowitz is unable to comment on what specific changes are in store for Art Basel, he says that growing digital channels will be key to its success—hinting to rumoured plans of a year-round online marketplace for galleries. Nonetheless he maintains that live events will remain at the brand's core: "Coming out of Covid there is an enormous appetite for IRL events—art still needs to be appreciated in person." He says he will continue to build on the legacy of his predecessor, who grew Art Basel into "something more than a fair brand".
Indeed, Spiegler oversaw a period of major shifts and growth at Art Basel, including the launch of two new fair locations: in Hong Kong in 2013 and in Paris this year.
His final stretch as global director coincided with tumult both within MCH and the wider industry as the pandemic hit live events hard, forcing Art Basel to cancel or reduce in size a number of its fair editions. In recent years, MCH has scaled back financial commitments to some of its other ventures, and witnessed the near-collapse of one of its flagship events Baselworld. A huge €46m investment from James Murdoch in 2020 through his private investment company Lupa Systems, which saw him become anchor shareholder, helped steady the brand following Covid losses while also prompting a major restructure. Recently, MCH has invested in East Asian fairs and other art ventures such as Art SG in Singapore (January 2023) and Art Week Tokyo (3-5 November) as Hong Kong's long-term viability as the region's premier art hub remains doubtful.
Initiatives introduced under Spiegler's tenure at Art Basel include online viewing rooms and sliding exhibitor fees to encourage participation from smaller galleries. He was also in charge of less successful ventures such as a cancelled three-day $15,000-a-ticket conference in Abu Dhabi, and the first—and only—edition of Art Basel Cities in Buenos Aires.
Spiegler, a citizen of US and France, began his art world career as a journalist, writing for publications including New York Magazine and The Art Newspaper, for which he worked on some of the publication's first art fair daily papers, including Art Basel in Miami Beach, which he would go on to direct some years later.
He says in a statement: "Following the successful premiere of Paris+ and with the imminent 20th anniversary of Art Basel Miami Beach, I am leaving Art Basel on a high note. Leading the next stage of Art Basel's evolution will take many years and a different set of skills. It has come time to pass the baton."