Why Giorgio Pace Wants to Keep NOMAD as Exclusive as Possible

The co-founder of the peripatetic fair for contemporary art and design puts a premium on superlative locations and innovative galleries, with elegant collectors firmly in mind.

Busts on plinths and artwork on walls at an art fair
Brun Fine Art at NOMAD 2023. DePasquale Michael and Maffini Martina

Yesterday (Feb. 21), NOMAD returned to St. Moritz for the seventh time since Giorgio Pace and Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte’s exclusive contemporary art and design fair first mounted a show in the chic Engadin Valley resort town in 2018. In the years since, the pair has turned their visionary concept of a roving panoply of collectible pieces into a glamorous and innovative reality.

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Pace began his career as a researcher and curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and has since worked with the Venice Biennale, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Dia Center for the Arts and many other institutions, gaining a well-earned reputation for supporting unorthodox cultural initiatives.

NOMAD is arguably the ne plus ultra of arts destinations. Pace and Bellavance-Lecompte have organized fairs in Venice and Monaco, but the regular editions of the fair take place in Capri in summer and in St. Moritz in winter. The secret to their success, according to Pace, is the coalescence of wealthy collectors, discerning curators and an urbane art crowd in a perfect triumvirate.

Two men, one in a striking green suit and one in a matching patterned lounge set, stand outdoors in a courtyard
NOMAD founders Giorgio Pace (l.) and Nicolas Bellavance-Lecompte. DePasquale Michael and Maffini Martina

Observer caught up with Pace as the Swiss installment of his itinerant showcase opened its doors.

What was the driving force behind NOMAD?

Around 2015 or 2016, I realized there were a lot of art fairs all over the world, but lots of the collectors stopped going to them because there were too many and they were not exclusive anymore. They are too big; you cannot really walk around them, even if you are a VIP, and so those major fairs lost the most important collectors. I asked myself, “How can I get some of those collectors back into the fairs?” The answer was to do something smaller and more exclusive.

The venues seem to be an integral part of NOMAD’s appeal. 

Exactly. At the same time as I was thinking about holding smaller art fairs, I was asked to do something around art for Monaco. I saw this beautiful house, La Vigie, where Karl Lagerfeld used to live that now belongs to the royal family of Monaco. They said I could rent it from them, so I decided to do the first NOMAD there, inviting galleries to take and curate one room. You’re in this beautiful villa… you feel like it could be your own home, but almost everything is for sale, both art and design. It was very small because there were only fifteen or eighteen rooms, but it was a big success. People loved it. It was very exclusive from the beginning—by invitation only.

Exclusivity is a key theme of the fair. Attendees are generally collectors, and people have to register to gain entrance. Do you think you’ll ever make it more accessible?

I would say seventy percent of the audience is made up of serious collectors, and the rest are people who just want to come and see the coolest people, which is okay. It’s important that people register. We need to know who’s coming because in our venues, we always have limited space. We are not Frieze or Basel where we can have 30,000 people per day; also we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of those fairs, where there are lots of people and collectors cannot really look and appreciate the art or the design and don’t have a chance to talk to the gallery representatives. But at the same time, I don’t want to stop the locals from coming to enjoy the galleries, so it’s not like we don’t give them a chance to attend.

Do you see the fair evolving in the future? It must be a challenge to keep it fresh and exciting, and still a boundary-pushing event.

To be honest, I don’t want to evolve so much because if you make the fair bigger, it’s very dangerous. I would like to explore and take NOMAD to different destinations. It could be Palm Beach or Aspen, or it could be Oslo or Riyadh, China or maybe I can go to Korea. I’m more interested in exploring destinations where people may have heard about NOMAD but haven’t had the chance to experience it. Of course, then we run into different problems: the fair’s calendar is a nightmare, and if we put NOMAD on when there is another large fair, we’ll lose a gallery or two. There’s a lot to consider.

How do you think your background in curation and exhibition management has prepared you for the role of NOMAD organizer?

All of my experiences were huge in informing the evolution of my career. I spent ten years working for different museums in New York, in roles from the curatorial to management to fundraising, and then I worked for fifteen years in publishing. I know how to deal with the sponsors, with the partners and with creative people because I was dealing with artists, designers, photographers and movie directors for all that time.

SEE ALSO: Magnus Resch On His Latest Book and What New Art Collectors Need to Understand

What help did you have at the start?

At the beginning, I was doing everything by myself because I didn’t really have a team. I was selecting the artists and doing the fundraising to be able to pay for all this, and I was inviting the press, inviting the collectors… and I was creating the different experiences. All the years I worked in different places, from New York to Paris to London, helped me. In 2016, I met Nicolas, who had a background with galleries because he had his own gallery in Beirut, and I asked him would you like to be part of this? He liked the idea, we started to do this together and built up a great team.

What is it about St. Moritz and Capri that make them ideal locations to hold NOMAD, and how has location contributed to the fair’s success?

The people who come are really serious collectors. So the good thing is all these people now have the expectation that every year they will discover new things. The comments we received last year from some important American people were that they “never saw a fair with such a high level of elegant people.” At most shows, you don’t see any more elegant people. Maybe they’re rich, but they’re not chic. And I think this is our strength because people know that they’ll go to something really special and meet people of the same level. Being in St. Moritz or being in Capri, it automatically creates a filter because wealthy people, visitors and collectors can afford to come to these places, and those people have certain tastes. I think this is the key to the success of NOMAD—people come because they discover things they don’t really see at the other fairs.

Why Giorgio Pace Wants to Keep NOMAD as Exclusive as Possible