Alumni in Profile: Noah Horowitz - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Alumni in Profile: Noah Horowitz

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Alumni in Profile: Noah Horowitz


Noah Horowitz (MA 2003, PhD 2008) recently appointed Director Americas, Art Basel spoke in Autumn 2015 to Gemma Rolls-Bentley (MA 2009) about his new role, arts online and the importance of reading all that you can whilst studying at The Courtauld.

Firstly, congratulations on the new job. Other than proximity to the beach, what do you anticipate the biggest differences between leading an art fair in Miami and an art fair in New York will be?

Thanks, Gemma. After having navigated blizzards and any number of complications that arise when producing a major event in the New York winter, proximity to the beach shouldn’t be underestimated…

More fundamentally, the biggest difference in this new role is really the scope of the show and the depth of the overall organisation. Art Basel is truly global in terms of the galleries, collectors and arts professionals who attend, as well as in its inherent structure with locations in Hong Kong, Miami Beach and Basel. The breadth of this reach and the show’s touch points at the highest levels of our industry really separate it from the rest of the field. This is no slight to The Armory, which has a wonderful history and occupies an important position in its own right; however in the end it is a New York institution, whereas Art Basel is global and scaled at a different level. My remit as Director Americas is to continue Art Basel’s ongoing engagement across the whole of the region. This includes leading the show in Miami Beach as a matter of course, and also building bridges not only with the cultural community of South Florida but throughout the US, Canada and Latin America. Since joining Art Basel full time at the end of August, this has already led me to LA, Chicago, and Bogotá – and that’s really just the beginning when you consider the depth of the art world here.

What was the most important lesson that you learned from working on The Armory Show that you hope to apply to Art Basel Miami Beach?

The importance of maintaining relationships across all levels of our field – from gallerists to collectors, museum directors, curators, journalists and all sorts of entrepreneurs and cultural actors. One of the nuances of being a successful fair director, I think, is figuring out how to successfully navigate this immense terrain, all the while keeping an eye trained on serving the interests of the dealers and artists who are at the core of everything we do. For example, each year around 100 museum groups from around the world, but primarily from across the United States, attend Art Basel’s show in Miami Beach, including curators, directors, affiliate patrons and museum members. These institutional relationships are vital to our galleries and their artists, and moving forward in my role as Director Americas, I will be working very closely with museums in North and South America to continue Art Basel’s commitment to maintain and deepen these connections.

Every year sees the arrival of new fairs in the art calendar. Last year the Economist stated that roughly 90 take place worldwide, 20 of those are in the UK and the majority of those in London. In the cities where the fairs are most concentrated, and the price of property is naturally at its highest, do you think that we’ll see gallery spaces shrink or even disappear?

Other sources suggest that there are now upwards of 200 fairs, so you might actually be underestimating the expanse of the fair industry. To talk of “the gallery”, however, is too monolithic: there is such a wide range of galleries nowadays and every case is unique. Many are doing well, even expanding, while some are perhaps struggling as they balance the ambition of their programming with the realities of running a business in a competitive and costly environment. At its core, you have to remember that a successful art fair is one that operates as a springboard for galleries, putting them in contact with a wide range of existing and new audiences – buyers, sellers, thinkers, producers and everything in between. Additionally, collecting art is no longer only an activity for a rarified leisure class but also for people who are quite actively working and who may not have the time to visit every gallery, but who are attracted to the streamlined offering of a fair. As this process plays itself out, fairs really must be seen as part of a larger continuum – temporarily compressing an enormous range of activity into a single space, but also expanding networks and building larger audiences and business opportunities for galleries well beyond this throughout the year as well.

So to return to your question, no, I don’t think that gallery spaces will disappear – the very essence of representing artists is a full-time affair and not something that just gets switched on or off at a fair – but they’ll certainly need to be nimble and some conventions of the trade may well be ruptured or reinvented in the process.

The Courtauld’s wonderful ‘speed mentoring’ initiative sadly didn’t exist when you or I were students. Have you ever been mentored by fellow Courtauld alumni, either formally or informally? If not, who would you say has been an important mentor in your career?

I’ve taken something from every stage of my career, but I’m not sure I could really single out a particular mentor along the way. You pick up lessons and inspirations as you go and hopefully they add up to something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. One thing for sure is that there have been a number of people in my ongoing journey who have lent me their ear when they didn’t have to. I’m grateful for all of these interactions and also acutely conscious that they can make all the difference, so I do my best to give back whenever I can, because you never know who you will touch and what may come of these encounters down the road.

What piece of advice would you give to Courtauld students and recent graduates about making the most of their time spent at the university?

Read. And then read some more. And make the absolute most of the Institute’s dense academic network and programming. In all likelihood, you’ll never have another opportunity to soak up such a density of information. The critical skillset that you pick up at The Courtauld is an immensely powerful tool, and something that can really help differentiate yourself from peers as your career develops. The art world can be challenging, confusing and at times paradoxical to navigate, so knowing how to lean on your art historical tools and to confidently call your own shots – unfiltered, independently – is an enormous asset.

Throughout your career as you have had the opportunity to teach students or lecture in other settings, is there a particular Courtauld tutor that you channel, someone that left a lasting impression on you perhaps…?

I wrote my PhD under Professor Julian Stallabrass (MA 1986, PhD 1992), and his critical approach to all facets of art history and his precise, economic prose in writing have definitely stuck with me. Beyond this, Professor John House’s (MA 1969, PhD 1976) lectures always put a smile on my face. He had such a grace and charm, and this wonderful ability to take serious subject matter and make it absolutely human – and humorous. That personal touch is something that I certainly try to take with me in my own career. I only wish I got to know him better.

I’m about to start a new job with Artsy, a company that has arguably had more success than other platforms in bringing the art world online. A real turning point in Artsy’s journey was partnering with The Armory Show, which was under your directorship at the time. What would you say the main reasons are that the art world has resisted entering the online sphere for so long?

Evolving business practices are challenging for all industries, and the entrenched structures and opaque dealings of the art world can make it particularly impervious to change – technological or otherwise. You also have to bear in mind that the art business is a relationship business and that profit is not the driving concern for much of the community keen to build a lasting legacy and to contribute to a greater cultural dialogue. So there are some inherent frictions with the online sphere, which has tended to be most impactful in mass markets with more easily interchangeable goods and services. Aspects of this will inevitably change, but that’s surely one reason why the art world has been a slow adopter in this space.

As I reflect on my new role with Art Basel I should emphasize that one of elements that really attracted me to the organisation is its willingness to think differently about today’s changing art world and to take a real leadership position within this space – to innovate in response to evolving business conditions, without changing just for the sake of it. A key example as we talk about the online sphere is Art Basel’s Crowdfunding Initiative. This unique digital platform is aimed at supporting non-profit  organisations drawing attention to arts communities around the world and staying engaged with audiences 365 days a year. It is one dynamic way that we are responding to this new digital reality.

Do you think that art collectors of the future will conduct the majority of their purchases online or do you think that the internet will shape the market in a more complicated way than that?

I think the reality will be more complicated. Any growth in the art market is good; however the experience of purchasing art online is a very different situation to experiencing the physicality of artworks in person at a museum, in a gallery or at a fair. Art fairs are a place to meet new people, build networks and collector bases and for leading opinion formers to connect and share ideas. We believe fundamentally in the gallery system and in building long term relationships as the most sustainable model of growth for the art world. Within this context, the internet plays an important role. Art Basel was the first art fair to have a mobile app and our website and social media feeds are an area of focus for us. We are communicating with diverse audiences through multiple platforms.

It’s a cheesy question but always interesting to hear the answer… who is your favourite artist right now?

The million dollar question. Also impossible to answer. By way of the above discussion, I’d say that following the work of the “parseltongues” who have come of age in a fully plugged-in era and who engage its processes through the structures and ideations of their work is something that’s certainly on my radar. There’s been an enormous amount of theorising around this subject over the past couple years (some good, a lot bad), which I’ve found particularly interesting with regard to how it’s continued to push the boundaries of our field now that so many of these practitioners straddle both the art world proper and other areas well beyond.

Surround Audience, the New Museum Triennial curated by Ryan Trecartin and Lauren Cornell, and Art Post Internet, organised by Karen Archey and Robin Peckham at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, are two recent exhibitions that have helped frame some of this debate in a progressive way. Looking ahead towards Miami Beach in December, I’m particularly excited about Dan Bayles’ installation at François Ghebaly Gallery, which will evolve during the show in response to other works on display. Meanwhile, Pilar Corrias will explore the mediation of images through technology in three artists’ work: Rachel Rose, Ian Cheng and Ken Okiishi. All of these artists are worth keeping an eye on – and their  gallerists undoubtedly as well.

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