Is Art Basel launching a year-round ‘marketplace’ for galleries? A recent spate of job advertisements suggests so

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In the aftermath of the pandemic, Art Basel appears to be extending its remit beyond in-person events, developing “new digital formats” to “further support our galleries”, according to a spokesperson for the art fair. 

So could plans to develop a year-round online marketplace for galleries finally be taking shape, as The Canvas newsletter put it? A number of job advertisements posted by the fair’s parent company MCH Group last week would certainly suggest so.

One advert, for a digital gallery relations associate, says responsibilities include “acquiring galleries to join the marketplace platform”. Another posting, for a digital community relations manager, says candidates will be expected to “manage gallery accounts”. Other roles being advertised include a digital customer service manager and digital business analyst, whose role includes “improving the performance of the marketplace”.

The Art Basel spokesperson declined to discuss details of the new initiative, but says: “As the art market evolves, Art Basel is continually exploring new ways in which we can further support our galleries through new digital formats complementary to our physical shows that help connect them to the broadest possible audiences. As always, we will communicate details of any new initiatives once confirmed.”

MCH has long been planning to build out the Art Basel brand beyond its fairs. Even before the swift adoption of digital brought about by the pandemic, in 2019, MCH’s then chief executive Bernd Stadlwieser said in a statement: “We must […] invest in innovations, digitisation, and internationalisation”, with the aim of “building communities that go beyond the physical event”. More recently, MCH underwent refinancing, but expansion and growth remain key strategies.

Today, Art Basel is a multi-tiered, technical platform which—unlike competitors such as Artsy and Artnet Galleries—integrates the fair and technology platform in-house. This coupled with enormous growth in online sales over the past two years (the online market is now worth $13.3 billion, with online sales accounting for 20% of sales in the art market, according to the latest Art Basel/UBS Art Market report), and it only seems logical for Art Basel to develop a year-round online marketplace to combat lingering travel restrictions and create more nimble, more sustainable ways of doing business.

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