Is Art Basel in Turmoil?

Annette Schönholzer is the second of the fair's directors to resign in a month.

Annette Schönholzer Photo: Courtesy Art Basel
Annette Schönholzer Photo: Courtesy Photo: Kunstmuseum Basel.

It is the second departure in less than a month from Art Basel’s senior management: artnet News has learned that Annette Schönholzer will leave the Swiss mega-fair at the end of August. She follows Magnus Renfrew who stepped down as director of Art Basel’s Asian operations in July in order to take up the deputy chairmanship of Bonhams Asian division (See: Magnus Renfrew Drops Art Basel for Bonhams). Schönholzer is said to be pursuing other opportunities in the cultural sphere, but has yet to further clarify where she might land.

Schönholzer has been with Art Basel for 12 years, beginning as the show manager of Art Basel Miami Beach in 2002. She became co-director of Art Basel when Marc Spiegler joined the fair in September 2007. In 2012 she became the fair’s Director of New Initiatives, a position of her own creation and one in which she assumed a more behind-the-scenes role, seemingly extricating herself from the directorial staff, to develop the fair’s Global Patrons Council and programs aimed at targeting young collectors in Asia.

According to a spokesperson for Art Basel, there will be no replacement hired for that role. It will instead be distributed among current staff. Schönholzer will continue on with the fair in a consulting capacity while that transition is achieved. The fair claims that they will continue working with her on a number of future projects, but could not elaborate further.

Commenting on Schönholzer’s departure, Marc Spiegler said: “Annette has played a pivotal role in transforming Art Basel into the truly global organization it is today. She brought to each of her roles a rare combination of strategic vision, executional excellence, and devotion to the mission of Art Basel. Personally, I have learned greatly from working so closely with her over the last seven years.”

Replacing Magnus Renfrew

The fair is in the recruiting phase for a new Asia director to replace Magnus Renfrew. However, sources question Art Basel’s ability to maintain its executive-level staff, citing rumored difficulties between Spiegler and his fellow directors. Renfrew lasted through only two editions of Art Basel Hong Kong. ArtHK, of which he was the founding director in 2008, was purchased in 2011 by the MCH Group, Art Basel’s holding company. Cay Sophie Rabinowitz, who was hired as the artistic director of Art Basel and Art Basel Miami Beach in 2007, stayed with the fair for less than a year.

When contacted by artnet News, Art Basel was quick to reject any suggestion of difficulty among its senior management, saying that the timing of Renfrew and Schönholzer’s departure was purely coincidental. The fair and its owners claim to look forward to engaging in continued collaboration with Schönholzer, MCH CEO René Kamm, commented: “Annette has been doing a tremendous job for MCH in her work for Art Basel and we are profoundly grateful to Annette for her extraordinary dedication and contributions to the success of Art Basel. We are very happy that Annette will stay connected with us in a new capacity.”


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