It’s not so often that a bit of news about a market report can overshadow the opening of Art Basel, the cornerstone of the fair circuit that’s become so integral to the business of buying and selling works. But the most-talked-about bit of news on the Messeplatz Monday afternoon was the announcement that Clare McAndrew, who for eight years has published a hugely influential deep dive into the statistics of the art market for TEFAF, will bring that same study to Art Basel, where its publication will be commissioned by the fair and the Swiss bank UBS. The first report under the arrangement will come out March 2017, right in time for Art Basel Hong Kong.
This represents a major coup for Art Basel, which will now have in its arsenal the art market report that, by all accounts, is the most effective at reflecting and, inevitably, influencing the global trade winds of the industry.
“Clare is the world’s leading art market economist,” said Noah Horowitz, Art Basel’s Director Americas, when I ran into him between booths at the VIP First Choice preview of Art Basel Tuesday morning. “And her report is the bedrock of the global art market study.”
Horowitz would know: He’s been a disciple of McAndrew’s for 15 years, and she helped him out while he was pursuing a Ph.D. at London’s Courtauld Institute of Art. Horowitz, who joined Basel last year after serving as the director of the Armory Show, was integral in stealing McAndrew away from TEFAF, the old-world fair in Maastricht, which is known just as much for its famous market report as it is for its actual art expo. She also pursued various other investigations into art market machinations through her consulting firm Arts Economics.
On Wednesday, I met McAndrew at the Art Basel VIP lounge. She wore a black gown more suited for a gala than a fair. She spoke with a slight Irish lilt, as she lives with her family in Dublin. After walking through the lounge, where she was repeatedly greeted by starstruck Art Basel employees, true fans of her intrepid number-crunching, we arrived at a room where the fair’s director Marc Spielger, a former journalist, was drinking a green juice in a pink shirt and purple tie.
“This conversation started 15 years ago, when you and Noah first started talking together,” Spiegler said once we all sat down.
“We knew each other when he was doing his Ph.D.—he actually sent me his thesis on this big disk,” McAndrews responded, indicating it could have been a disk of the floppy variety. “I think I still have it somewhere.”
The move seemed like a surprise only because McAndrew has been so closely associated with TEFAF, a fact that Spiegler and Horowitz realized before they reached out to her with the potential plan.
“It was one of those pie-in-the-sky, wow-what-if-we-could things,” Spiegler said. “I’ve just been a huge fan of the work that she’s done for TEFAF and other places. I was never an academic in the field, but I was a social scientist in college, and I always had a pretty academic approach as a journalist—I’ve studied the art market in many ways. And it’s the same themes—how are the galleries evolving, what are their relationships to the auctions, what are the different tiers of the galleries, how is the art world internationalizing—and it was always great to read Clare’s analysis to get hard numbers around things you’re feeling in your gut.”
Spiegler explained that, unlike TEFAF, Art Basel has 500 galleries that the organization works with through various fairs. The data provided by these galleries can help make the upcoming reports more thorough, detailed, and definitive, he said. And the collaboration with UBS allows for McAndrew to access troves of more information than art market analysts are used to.
“I can use the network that Basel has, and also I’ve been finding out even more today about UBS—they have a huge client base of individuals who are worth $50 million plus and they’re the people who are most hard to get in surveys,” McAndrew said. “They’re a very hard group to analyze. And it’ll still be independent research, but I’ll be able to access a broader and a more direct network. They have access to the billionaires, and it’s really important.”
Spiegler insisted that Art Basel and UBS have no involvement beyond commissioning the work and providing McAndrew with data, meaning there will be no influence from the banking bigwigs and the art-world head honchos on the findings of the report. McAndrew does not work for Art Basel, just as she did not work for TEFAF—in both cases she was an independent contractor. Horowitz told me she would never agree to this arrangement unless she had total freedom. Though it should be noted that UBS, a Zurich-based bank with assets around $943 billion, is the lead sponsor of Art Basel, and we were sitting near the UBS Lounge, and—coincidentally—just that day there was a lunch at Volkshaus where Swiss Institute director Simon Castets announced that his art space would continue to be supported by, you guessed it, UBS.
Art Basel dominates the art-fair economy, and having McAndrews involved will likely mean other fairs will have to commission their own research and survey arms, or at least beef up the ones they have.
“Most fairs do some exhibitor survey, but in reality the sample size is so, so small—I can say that a lot of these, they’re more or less written on the back on an envelope and then put onto Survey Monkey,” Spiegler said. “Obviously Clare is going to bring a whole level of sophistication to that.”
That sophistication, Spiegler said, will make McAndrew’s research more inclusive, and perhaps change the overall perception of the generally shadowy market as a result.
“Such a small percentage of works and a small percentage of artists make up 50 percent of the auction sales,” Spiegler said. “The classic metric of the state of the market is only reflective of a few dozen artists. So the general perception of the art market isn’t just the tip of the iceberg—it’s a floating wing off the edge.”
And just as McAndrew’s report has influenced the makeup of art fairs for years, it will now influence even more profoundly the ways in which Art Basel evolves. Spiegler said he hopes that a more contextual view of the market can help illuminate ways in which certain marginalized groups—young collectors, international collectors, smaller galleries, emerging artists—can be seized upon by Art Basel and emphasized in future iterations of the fair.