The Art Angle Podcast: James Murdoch on His Vision for Art Basel and the Future of Culture

This week, the media mogul speaks to art business editor Tim Schneider.

James Murdoch. Courtesy of Lupa Systems.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join us every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more, with input from our own writers and editors, as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.

In the Covid summer of 2020, the art world was jolted by a very different kind of drama when reports surfaced that MCH Group, the Swiss corporation best known as the parent company of Art Basel, had entered talks to sell a significant equity stake to Lupa Systems, the private investment company founded by none other than James Murdoch.

For listeners who haven’t spent years devouring media-sector or political gossip, James Murdoch is the fourth of six children of billionaire media mogul Rupert Murdoch, now most infamous for presiding over the hard-right coverage beamed out through Fox News in the U.S. and various overseas properties via his News Corp conglomerate.

The proximity of the Murdoch family to Art Basel initially sent some people in the art world into hysterics. One conspiracy theory even held that James was acting as a front for his father, who would take control of the planet’s best known, most prestigious art fair and… well, it was never quite clear what he would do, or why he would care, but obviously something dastardly and irreparable was about to happen, and we should all prepare for the worst.

Yet people interested in digging soon found out that James Murdoch is very much his own man with his own resources. Although he spent decades in the family business, including prominent roles in some of its satellite TV and entertainment companies, he cut his final tie to the empire when he resigned from the board of News Corp in July 2020.

He has been a public critic of Donald Trump as far back as 2017, and through Quadrivium, the foundation James and his wife Kathryn started in 2014, he has funneled substantial philanthropic resources into counteracting climate change, promoting evidence-based solutions in science and health, expanding voting rights, and pushing back against online extremism.

He’s also a mogul in his own right. When Disney paid a knee-buckling $71.3 billion in 2019 to acquire nearly all of the Murdochs’ entertainment assets, James received a reported $2.2 billion from the deal. He launched Lupa Systems shortly after, with sources claiming at the time that he would invest up to $1 billion of his wealth through the company.

By fall of 2020, MCH Group’s shareholders had approved the deal to make Lupa Systems the company’s new “anchor shareholder,” with the option to buy up to 49 percent of its shares. But in the time since, we’ve heard relatively little from James Murdoch himself about how MCH Group and Art Basel fits alongside the other ventures in Lupa’s portfolio, including media properties like the Tribeca Festival, advanced technology startups, and sustainability projects.

Ahead of the 2023 edition of Art Basel in Basel, however, I managed to sit down with James at Lupa Systems New York offices to hear his thinking firsthand.


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