Art Basel’s flagship fair returns for its 53rd edition not only to an ever-evolving global fair landscape, but major leadership changes at home. This will be the first Basel event since Marc Spiegler, the former global director of the Art Basel brand, who also led the eponymous Swiss fair, stepped down in November 2022. Last month it was announced that Maike Cruse, who served as the head of Gallery Weekend Berlin from 2014 to 2023, will take over as the director of the Basel show in July, immediately after this month’s edition.
But recent restructuring now means that Cruse will not also serve as the head of the fair company, as her predecessor did. Instead, she will report to Vincenzo de Bellis, the director of fairs and exhibition platforms, who was appointed to the newly established role in July 2022. This will be De Bellis’s first Basel show, although he has now directed one edition each of Art Basel’s Miami Beach, Hong Kong and Paris events. He in turn reports to Noah Horowitz, who took the reins as Art Basel chief executive—another newly created role—in November 2022 following Spiegler’s departure.
Although the new triple-decker leadership structure might seem more complex, Horowitz insists it “is more streamlined”. He explains: “Under the previous structure everything had to pass up through the global director; now Vincenzo is really empowered to guide the shows in collaboration with the individual fair head. Because Vincenzo is orchestrating all four fairs, he doesn’t have the separate responsibility of guiding the Basel fair.” This is “essential”, Horowitz continues, as the “Art Basel business and brand now demands more than the old structure allowed”, with “different audiences coming in compared to even five years ago”.
De Bellis adds: “Art Basel today runs four fairs on three continents, in addition to other initiatives. This structure enables us to deliver the highest quality show in each city as well as supporting each show’s regional specificity.” A greater push for regional specificity is echoed by Horowitz, who hopes that each of the four fairs will become “sufficiently differentiated” to take on unique identities and structures, under the guidance of De Bellis and the respective director.
A warmer Basel?
For this month’s fair, 284 galleries will participate, including newcomers Empty Gallery from Hong Kong and London’s Soft Opening. This year, Horowitz says, Art Basel has made efforts to collaborate with the Swiss canton of Basel to make the city “a warmer place”, by extending restaurant and bar hours and issuing a charter against excessive pricing that has been signed by 150 of the city’s businesses, namely hotels and restaurants. Rates for rooms are notoriously high during the week of the fair and often discourage attendance.
As for the wider changes in store for Art Basel, Horowitz remains tight-lipped. Questioned about whether a year-round Art Basel sales platform—for which job descriptions emerged online last year— is in the wings, he says: “Everything is on the table.” Art Basel is also still “in the market” for a director of its Miami Beach fair in December, he says, adding that it is his goal to have someone secured for this year’s edition.
Meanwhile, another fair in town also sees its management structure in flux: Volta Basel has been without a director since Kamiar Maleki left in March to head up Photo London. He told The Art Newspaper at the time that Volta Basel would run for “at least another two editions”.
In his absence, this edition of Volta Basel will be stewarded by Will Ramsay, the owner of Ramsay Fairs, which acquired Volta in 2019, and Cristina Salmastrelli, Volta’s regional US director who heads the fair’s New York edition. Volta Basel will announce its new artistic director in September 2023, Ramsay said in a statement shared with The Art Newspaper. “In the meantime, we look forward to making 2023 the most vibrant chapter of Volta so far,” he added.
For this edition, the fair moves to a new warehouse location in the “regenerated district of Klybeck”, featuring an outside garden that will host a sculpture park. For the first time in its 18-year history, the fair issued invitations to exhibit, rather than having galleries apply; more than 30 galleries, such as African Arty from Casablanca, Morocco, and Lee & Bae from Busan, South Korea, will show.
• Art Basel, Messe Basel, 15-18 June
• Volta Basel, Klybeck 610, 12-18 June