A Crafty Swiss Financier Is Reportedly Trying to Gather Investors to Wrest Art Basel Away From Its Parent Company, the MCH Group

But the MCH Group has its own plans.

Installation view of Peres Projects at Art Basel 2019. Courtesy Art Basel.

It’s been a rough year for Switzerland’s MCH Group, the owner of Art Basel, given the cancellation of the Hong Kong and Basel editions of the contemporary art fair, and the recent defections of major watch brands from the flailing Baselworld fair, which has been shelved for 2020 and 2021.

So it’s not surprising that some powerful investors are eyeing the valuable Art Basel brand and wondering if there is a way to wrest it away from MCH.

According to the Swiss business newspaper Finanz und Wirtschaft, Swiss investor Annette Schömmel, who runs the finance firm XanaduAlpha, wants to put together a consortium to buy 70 percent of MCH’s holdings, including Art Basel, and to expand the event, although details remain murky on what exactly expansion would mean.

In the scenario, the sale would go ahead for CHF 350 million ($370 million). 

Schömmel did not respond to Artnet News’s requests for comment.

But MCH is unwilling to consider the sale, and has instead thrown together its own plan to bring a new investor on board in the hopes that a fresh infusion of cash would boost business.

In response to Schömmel’s pitch, MCH told Artnet News: “The board of directors and the executive board confirm that Art Basel is of strategic importance for the MCH Group and that a (partial) sale is therefore not up for discussion.”

Schömmel’s proposal, which would bring significantly more money into MCH than can be expected from a new board member—and which would raise Art Basel’s value to CHF 500 million ($529 million), or five times MCH’s market value, according to Finanz und Wirtschaft—has the support of MCH’s largest private shareholder, Erhard Lee, who owns 10 percent of Art Basel’s parent company.

Lee, who has been critical of MCH management in the past, did not immediately respond to Artnet News’s request for comment.

According to Finanz und Wirtschaft, other MCH shareholders, including the canton of Basel-Stadt, have been pushing for a capital influx to alleviate some of the financial pressures the company has recently faced.

In an update on the MCH Group’s website posted earlier this month, the company said it was engaged in intensive negotiations with potential investors.

“The cancellation of the fairs resulted in no income and no upcoming income,” said one source who has been following MCH. “They also have to return deposits, so money is going out and not coming in,” the person said, adding: “It all boils down to, they are in bad shape financially, and are doing everything they can to get new investors. And current owners are willing to give up points in MCH to get money.”

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