Art Basel’s Parent Company MCH Group Is Pulling Out of Regional Art Fairs to Usher in a ‘Profound Transformation’

MCH Group decides "not to proceed" with Art SG and will sell its interests in both the India Art Fair and Art Düsseldorf.

India Art Fair 2017. Courtesy of Andy Barnham.

In 2016, Art Basel’s parent company, the MCH Group, embarked on a major expansion into regional art fairs. That plan manifested across international borders, as the Swiss firm announced it would debut Art SG, a new fair in Singapore; took a majority stake in the India Art Fair and a minority stake in Art Düsseldorf; and added Masterpiece London to its portfolio last December.

But the experiment didn’t last long. According to a statement on Friday, MCH Group is undertaking a “profound transformation” by dramatically downshifting its ambitions “for the necessary stabilization of the company.”

With the exception of Masterpiece, the firm plans to sell off or cancel the main regional fair interests it acquired in the preceding two years. MCH is seeking to divest itself of its shares in both the India Art Fair and Art Düsseldorf. (Since 2017, MCH held a 25 percent share in Art Düsseldorf and a 50 percent stake in the India Art Fair.) The firm has also “decided not to proceed with its participation” in Art SG, which was set to debut in November 2019. Finally, its car show Grand Basel will no longer expand to Miami Beach next year.

MCH, arguably the world’s leading producer of art and luxury trade fairs, appears to be undertaking this streamlining process so that it can concentrate its resources in its most prestigious events. All three existing Art Basel fairs will continue, as will the recently launched Art Basel Cities project. The firm also plans to expand Masterpiece London—the ritzy fair that mixes Old Masters and modern art—internationally, mentioning Asia as a “likely” first step (although no timeline has been announced). And as for MCH’s flagship event, the Baselworld watch fair, the statement advertises “a series of innovative concepts” in process for the 2019 edition, and a “new concept” being developed with exhibitors for 2020.

The move comes at a moment of internal upheaval at the company and in the retail business at large. “We must and wish to further develop our classical live-event competence into an integrated experience-marketing competence in the physical and digital fields,” said Hans-Kristian Hoejsgaard, who took over MCH as interim CEO in September, in a statement. “Our biggest challenge lies in finding the right balance between the measures required to stabilize the company and the investments which—despite limited resources—we must make in the future.”

The previous MCH CEO, René Kamm, resigned from the firm this August after Swatch pulled out of Baselworld—the boldest single symbol of a wider exhibitor exodus. (In an interview with the Financial Times, Swatch’s CEO said the fair had “always acted very arrogantly.”) Although visitor numbers have remained flat, the FT reported that the fair lost half its exhibitors between its 2017 and 2018 editions.

A request for comment from MCH Group was not returned by publication time.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics