Art Basel Executive Noah Horowitz Is Joining Sotheby’s as a Gallery Whisperer, the Latest Sign of Collapsing Categories in the Industry

The well-respected art-fair veteran will be tasked with "building out Sotheby's relationships with galleries and dealers."

Noah Horowitz. Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Art Los Angeles Contemporary.

Ever since Noah Horowitz stepped down as Art Basel’s director of the Americas last month, the art world has been wondering where the intrepid executive would end up next.

The guessing game is over. Horowitz has jumped ship from the world of art fairs and landed at an auction house. He will join Sotheby’s on September 20 in the newly created role of worldwide head of gallery and private dealer services. He will report to Brooke Lampley, who was promoted earlier this year to become chairman and global head of sales for Sotheby’s fine art. 

Horowitz will focus on strategy and building Sotheby’s relationships with galleries and dealers, the company said. The news was first reported by Vanity Fair

The move comes during a moment of tectonic shifts in the art world as businesses try to figure out how to scale their operations and expand their client bases. Galleries such as David Zwirner and Johann König launched initiatives that aim to take market share from regional art fairs. Auction houses, which have been impinging into dealer territory for years with private sales, have more recently experimented with different models to inch their way into the primary market. 

During the beginning of the pandemic last spring, Sotheby’s launched a digital sales platform for galleries called Sotheby’s Gallery Network. As part of the deal, it received a flat commission based on sales, with all artworks available exclusively through the auction house’s website.

(Dealers have largely remained mum about their experience with the platform, though some admitted sales were minimal. Although the website currently lists 56 galleries as “participants,” it is unclear how many are actively involved. Only seven dealers had work listed at press time, none of which was part of the original blue-chip cohort when it first launched.)

In a statement, Lampley described “the importance of a healthy art market ecosystem in which auction houses, galleries, fairs, collectors and institutions all benefit from working together. With Noah’s arrival, we can serve the market at an even greater scale, by bringing together all the capabilities that Sotheby’s has to offer to foster creative and rewarding collaborations.”

Horowitz has worked closely with international galleries for at least a decade. Since 2015, he led Art Basel Miami Beach, the major contemporary art fair in the U.S. Prior to that, he turned around the struggling Armory Show during a four-year tenure as its executive director. In the process, he has gained the trust of many art dealers—a major asset considering that galleries typically regard auction houses with suspicion, if not outright disdain.

“I am thrilled for him,” said Tim Blum, co-owner of Blum & Poe gallery. “He’s somebody, who at the very least cares about artists and galleries. He’s not posturing. He spent a lot of time and energy traveling the world. He brings more authentic, grounded approach for Sotheby’s.”

Horowitz will also bring some firepower to Sotheby’s senior ranks, which have seen considerable turnover in the past year. “I’m enormously excited to be joining Sotheby’s at this decisive moment for our industry and look forward to leveraging the unique combination of talent, expertise, resources and digital know-how at hand towards creating a successful new offering for today’s international gallery and private dealer community,” Horowitz said in a statement.

Sotheby’s has tried to blur the lines between auctions and other services before. It launched, and then quietly shuttered in 2018, a division designed to advise artists’ estates, which some saw as an effort to impinge on galleries’ turf and creep into the primary market.

“If galleries are going to collaborate with anyone at the auction houses, it will be Noah bc of the quality of relationships he built during his time at Art Basel,” said Miami collector Dennis Scholl. “But it remains a competitive industry.”

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