Will Art Basel Lose A Major Sponsor?

Switzerland wants to ban tobacco brands from funding international events.

Art Basel in Basel. Photo courtesy of Art Basel.


Art Basel in Basel 2014 General Impression © Photo by Daniela & Tonatiuh

Art Basel in Basel 2014 General Impression
© Photo by Daniela & Tonatiuh

Art Basel in Basel may lose one of its biggest sponsors, Davidoff, due to a pending Swiss law, the Basler Zeitung reports. The luxury cigar and cigarette manufacturer began cooperating with the Swiss mega-fair two years ago.

But, in an effort to continue to crack down on smoking in the country, Swiss Department of Home Affairs head Alain Berset has introduced a law that would tighten regulations on what events tobacco companies can sponsor. Advertising by tobacco firms is already banned in the country.

Berset would now like to adopt regulations similar to those instituted in 2005 across the European Union. Those regulations stipulate that tobacco firms cannot sponsor events that are not confined to participants and viewers from only one EU member country. While that stipulation is due to the limited scope of the European Commission’s power, it is unclear why Berset also intends to limit the ban to “events in Switzerland of an international nature.” Either way, if the legislation goes forward, there is hardly any question that Davidoff would have to pull its financial support for Art Basel.

A spokesperson for Davidoff told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that the proposed law is a “fundamental encroachment on the free market economy, to an never before seen extent.” (Davidoff had not responded to artnet News’ request for comment as of press time.)

Somewhat ironically, it was tobacco legislation, in part, that led Davidoff to sponsor the art fair in the first place. Until two years ago, it was the chief sponsor of Swiss Indoors, an annual tennis tournament. Davidoff reportedly gave 5 million Swiss francs ($5.5 million) in sponsorship each year, approximately a quarter of the tournament’s budget. However, it had to back out due to increased regulations on the appearance of its logo in some countries where the tournament was broadcast.

Davidoff’s engagement with Art Basel is estimated to be considerably less robust than that its engagement with the tennis tournament—likely it’s in the six-figure range. And, while the brand currently has a presence at all three Art Basel fairs in Basel, Miami, and Hong Kong, its focus has reportedly been placed mostly on the latter, where tobacco use among the wealthy elite remains high. It is unlikely that the proposed Swiss law would have an effect on Davidoff’s ability to continue sponsoring the fair’s non-Swiss shows.

Davidoff’s engagement with Art Basel is part of its larger Davidoff Art Initiative, which focuses on establishing links between the Caribbean and the art world at large. The initiative includes a residency in the Dominican Republic, recently announced, for international artists and residencies for Caribbean artists who want to work in Europe.

UPDATE: A spokesperson for Art Basel subsequently contacted artnet News with the following statement: “Art Basel is aware of the draft legislation to prohibit the tobacco industry’s sponsorship of events in Switzerland with an international reach. This bill has not yet been passed, and we do not engage in speculations about the implications such a law could potentially have. We hope that Oettinger Davidoff will be able to continue to be a partner of Art Basel in the future. Oettinger Davidoff is an important partner for Art Basel whose engagements, such as the Davidoff Art Initiative, support artists worldwide.”

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