Ahead of the 46th edition of Art Basel, director Marc Spiegler explains how the world’s biggest art fair is responding to the demands of a globalised art market and why it launched a crowdfunding initiative to promote projects outside the art market.
swissinfo.ch: You have been at the head of Art Basel for eight years. What do you see as the most profound change in the art world over that period?
Marc Spiegler: In the time I have been with Art Basel, the art world has become truly global. Artists, gallerists and collectors travelling all around the world engage with each other and learn about different art scenes and art histories.
swissinfo.ch: How have you addressed that change?
M.S.: Art Basel has also gone global with three shows on three continents and across three time zones, covering Europe, the Americas, Asia and Asia-Pacific. We have built up an experienced team that is based across the world in the key markets. At the same time, we have kept a local focus.
At our show in Basel, more than half of our exhibitors are from Europe… In Miami Beach, where half of our exhibitors are from the Americas, the host city and our programming gives the show a distinctly Latin flavour. And in Hong Kong, half of the participating galleries have exhibition spaces in Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.
We feel that our role in a globalised art world is to help people navigate it and to build bridges between gallerists and collectors, between the West and the East but also smaller bridges within Asia where the art market is only just developing.
Art Basel and Kickstarter
In September 2014, Art Basel launched a crowdfunding initiative to offer visibility and support to non-profit visual arts organisations that are finding it difficult to get public support. Selected by an independent team of curators, the current projects include catalogue editions, site-specific public art exhibitions, residency programmes and performance commissions. They have been largely successful in attaining their funding goals. There may however be a flipside to crowdfunding in the arts, since it has come at a time when many of the smaller, adventurous art galleries that defend the same cutting-edge art have been pushed out of the market. The irony is that they are finding it hard to compete against the ever-increasing number of art fairs.
swissinfo.ch: Art is now being sold online, with auction houses reporting a yearly 20% increase in online sales. Do you see this as a threat or an opportunity?
M.S.: The digital world is certainly a great opportunity for artists and galleries to promote themselves and their programmes. It also offers opportunities as a market platform. However, we have not come across a model yet that we think realises its full potential. When it comes to art, the personal relationship between the buyer and the seller is crucial.
swissinfo.ch: How did the Art Basel Crowdfunding Initiative came about and what’s in it for Art Basel?
M.S.: The Art Basel Crowdfunding Initiative was developed over the past two years as an exploration into ways to channel the energy of the Art Basel community towards the non-profit sector; a vital part of the art world that is key to the future of art, yet often struggles today to generate funding.
The non-profit sector is an important section of the art world in which we operate and we need to support it to ensure that cutting-edge art and emerging artists can survive in the long-term. …The crowdfunding initiative provides a unique opportunity for its global audience to directly support significant art projects from all over the world.
swissinfo.ch: The internet offers collectors wider possibilities, but you have also suggested that this is true for artists. In what ways?
M.S.: The internet is where information about artists is shared across the world. An artist's audience today is no longer only local or regional, it can become international instantaneously online.
swissinfo.ch: As early as 1999, Art Basel introduced a film section which is now commonly referred to as time-based media - or moving image art - some of it created with and for the internet. Is there a market for it?
M.S.: There already is a strong interest and demand for work by "digital native" artists. Not all of them use the internet to make their art, but they are influenced by it and it informs their thinking and their approach to the word and art.
A good example is Ryan McNamara, whose MEEM 4 Miami we presented in Miami Beach last December. MEEM 4 Miami is a performance or ballet that is an interpretation of the layered architecture of the internet and the infinite streams of information that pour through its portals onto our laptops and smart phones
swissinfo.ch: You seem excited by the potential that technological developments offer.
M.S.: I think it is part of all our lives today - even if we did not grow up with it. Some people are worried and scared about technological development, but personally I see it as a great opportunity for new types of exchanges.
Classic highlights of Art Basel 2015
At this year’s Art Basel, leading galleries have been invited to bring their best works of modern art from 1900 to 1970. This thematic approach will be welcomed by the top end of connoisseurs who prefer the exclusive TEFAF Maastricht art fair to the messy Art Basel, but it nevertheless poses the question of why there is still so much museum quality art out there and if museums will ever be able to afford it again.
Major works by Magritte, Max Ernst, Marc Chagall, Henry Moore, Joan Miro, Mark Rothko and, of course, Pablo Picasso, will be changing hands again, some of which never left the bank vaults of their previous owners. They appear in auction houses and art fairs, only to disappear from the public eye again.
Contemporary highlights of Art Basel 2015
Art Basel is also a playing ground for many star curators who give the fair a contemporary buzz. Eight show sectors appeal to even the most jaded art buffs, among which: The Unlimited exhibition is curated by New York-based Gianni Jetzer who gives it a distinctive political and ecological dimension, with Ai Weiwei’s "Stacked", as well as works by the disruptive Kader Attia and eco-militant Olafur Eliasson. Statements presents new solo projects by young, emerging artists. Look out for a site-specific project by Swiss artist Raphael Hefti, which will produce aluminium sculptures onsite. Parcours engages the city's historical quarters with site-specific projects and will take place this year around the Münsterplatz area near the Basel cathedral. The Film programme will include the European premier of “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict”. Art Basel will collaborate for the first time with the Locarno Film Festival on a special screening.