Marc Spiegler: “I have not yet seen an NFT that has moved me as much as a Picabia painting” | Culture

Marc Spiegler (Oxford, 53 years old) was an art journalist freelance, of French nationality and American education, until in 2007 he crossed to the other side of the mirror to work in the organization of Art Basel, the most important fair in the world. Since 2012, he has been the global director of a brand that was born in Basel (Switzerland), and has spread to Hong Kong and Miami Beach, where this week the first event fully worthy of the name (without transoceanic travel restrictions) was held since the stop forced by the pandemic. Art Basel Miami Beach closed its doors on Saturday with a successful balance; Galleries have sold, collectors have spent eagerly and the public (60,000 attendees) has responded, despite worrying news of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Spiegler spoke with EL PAÍS on Wednesday afternoon on the terrace of a bar in the city’s botanical garden, located in front of the congress palace where a fair that started in 2002 was held and which is the most important appointment with the market of the art of America. He seemed relieved after verifying that the results of the first day, on Tuesday, the day the fair opened for professionals, had lived up to expectations. And that this year has doubled the day: the surprise resignation in July of Noah Horowitz as director of Art Basel of Americas (he left it to go to the auction world, hand in hand with Sotheby’s) has forced him to a greater dedication.

Question. During the pandemic we got tired of saying that we would learn many things. In view of the fact that this fair has returned the way it used to… What has the art world learned in these two years?

Answer. Two things. The first is that it has armed itself on the digital front. In our case, it has involved creating the Online Viewing Rooms [salas virtuales para contemplar las obras de arte], the digital tours attended by the fair, the content in streaming Art Basel Live, the podcasts … As regards the galleries, they have made an effort to improve their online presence, to offer digital tours of their spaces and of the studios of some of its artists. In short, we have learned to communicate better. On the other hand, the pandemic underlined, especially in the United States, how much more remains to be done when it comes to race and equality. We have realized that the art world is wider than we believed, in its artists, but also in its gallery owners and collectors. [Esa inclusividad] It is not something we can achieve overnight. To begin with, when you open a gallery you need financial capital and social capital, and that is not easy to achieve. But we have thought it necessary to include galleries of people who are not white. We have sent you a message: we are ready to support the fact that you are too. We have changed the rules for entering the fair to put as few obstacles as possible. This has meant that there are more black gallery owners and that four African spaces have come for the first time.

P. Will it be like this in the Swiss edition of Art Basel too?

R. Everywhere. There is nothing specific in the rules that talks about race and equality, but a spirit that says: we want to include you as soon as possible.

P. Has there been a reflection on the sustainability of this business model, which involves so many trips, during this time of hiatus?

R. We have witnessed a lot of speculation, which predicts that the fairs were going to disappear with the pandemic, that everything was going to be virtual, that it was no longer necessary to see each other’s faces. I wrote a long piece for him Financial Times about a half year ago, and I think this fair has proved me right: people want to travel, and buy art in a way that cannot be done through the internet. I hope that the galleries that have not dared to come this year will do so next year. I’m sure it will help you to know this week’s results. The big issue about the fairs is their environmental viability, because they involve the construction of ephemeral infrastructures, with a lot of material that is later discarded, and they also mean that a lot of people move to places where they do not live. We have to reduce the impact, working with the galleries, to help them, also to be more sustainable, and using recycled or recyclable materials. But taking into account all these environmental costs, I think they are outweighed by the social benefits that a fair of this type also brings. They are places where galleries find their patrons, who give them money, and that money helps them support their artists. The cultural impact balances the ecological cost. If you don’t believe in culture, you won’t buy that formula, but if, like me, you believe in it, you will.

The cultural benefit balances the ecological cost of holding a fair like this one “

P. How do you predict the economic recovery of the art business will be?

R. Considering what happened this week in Miami, I think it will be quick. Note that very few galleries have closed. Very few.

P. If a fair of this type serves to press the present and augur the future of art… What have you seen in the crystal ball this year in Miami?

R. It will be digital …

P. Even with Zoom fatigue.

R. Zoom bores us all. But it has served us well. For example, next week we will be working on the selection process for galleries for the Basel fair. We would have loved to do it in person, but it won’t be possible due to the omicron variant. In that sense, it is useful. But I don’t think it has to be overused. When I talk about digital, I mean to make digital art, to promote it digitally, to digitize the certificates of authorship … All that I think is here to stay. Art has to open up and be more inclusive, and that is true for artists, galleries, collectors, institutions …

Considering what has been seen this week, the economic recovery of the galleries will be fast “

P. Perhaps the biggest barrier to access is their prices …

R. I don’t tell my clients how to price their merchandise. But there are other forms, forms such as digital editions, NFTs, multiples, series… I find it strange when people talk about the democratization of art, because the democratization of access is often confused with the democratization of property. And I think they are two different things. If anything, its prices are part of the nature of art right now. And museums also buy works, which can then be seen by the public.

I don’t tell my clients how they have to price their merchandise “

P. But many museums cannot access many artists in a fair like this …

R. Yes.

P. Are NFTs, those digital works of art based on the technology that powers cryptocurrencies, here to stay?

R. In themselves, I don’t think so. Right now the NFTs are meme stocks [valores virales]. I have not seen one yet that has struck me as a photograph by Wolfgan Tillmans or that has excited me as much as a painting by Picabia. But I’m looking forward to being surprised.

A man consults an NFT artwork Wednesday at the Art Basel Miami Beach fair.
A man consults an NFT artwork Wednesday at the Art Basel Miami Beach fair.EVA MARIE UZCATEGUI (AFP)

P. Will there be a new director of Art Basel Miami soon?

R. There will be, I can’t take on all this work, or it will give me something.

P. At what stage is the selection process?

R. We are Art Basel, we never talk about something until it is a reality.

P. What have been your main discoveries these days?

R. I have not been able to see all the galleries in depth yet, because I spend all day doing interviews, but I have been very interested in the work of Qualeasah Wood, at the Kendra Jayne Patrick gallery. It deals with themes of the digital native, with the support of a tapestry. In what is currently my favorite piece of the fair, a black woman is seen taking a selfie in an Instagram post. There’s a text that says, “You can’t call people narcissistic while building your career from selfies.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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