Marc Spiegler Defends Art Basel From Rival’s Charge of ‘Colonialism’

The real threat to the gallery ecosystem is elsewhere, he said.

Marc Spiegler. Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images.

Art Basel director Marc Spiegler has hit back at Art Cologne director Daniel Hug, who back in April compared the Switzerland-based rival’s expansion strategy to “colonialism.”

Hug was referring to Art Basel parent MCH Group’s aggressive expansion strategy into regional art fairs, buying stakes in India Art Fair, and Art Düsseldorf, on top of operating fully owned fairs in Basel, Miami, and Hong Kong. He accused the Swiss conglomerate’s pursuit of commercial dominance of displacing unique regional cultures.

“When the Swiss start offshoots all over the world, then they have a power over the art market that represses regional culture,” Hug said at the time. “That is also a form of colonialism. Art is diverse. We should not destroy it.”

In contrast, he argued, Art Cologne focuses on the promotion and development of the German art market.

This week, in an interview with the German press agency DPA (cited by Monopol), Spiegler countered Hug’s criticism. Far from being a threat, he asserted that the establishment of new fairs leads to the creation of new marketplaces and benefits key stakeholders, including museums, galleries, and artists.

Daniel Hug, director of Art Cologne. Photo courtesy Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images.

Daniel Hug, director of Art Cologne. Photo courtesy Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images.

The threat, Spiegler said, lay elsewhere: the auction houses.

“A contemporary gallery builds an artist’s career, and when the collectors of an artist wanted to sell a work, traditionally they would go back to the gallery—and so the gallery’s investment in the artist paid off,” he said. “Now the business is taken over by auction houses and their investment dissolves.”

Auction houses, he continued, distort prices, introduce instability into the market, and erode galleries’ share of the art market.

“We all want the gallery ecosystem to work well,” Spiegler said. “Good fairs are good for galleries and good for the establishment of a collector community, regardless of who organizes them.”

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