PAI Opinion: Art Basel – show or no show?

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Photo by mali maeder from Pexels.

There’s no easy way to start a piece about effects of the coronavirus. Our first thoughts are with the nearly 25,000 tested positive, whose numbers can only grow. The fate of an art fair in Hong Kong likely to amass thousands of collectors and their millions seems inconsequential in comparison.

But will Art Basel Hong Kong take place as scheduled on March 19th? It remains a question worth asking; particularly as protests continue in the city.

The diagnosis of 18 coronavirus cases in the city, and one casualty, has left confidence in the fair at its lowest.

A massive blow was dealt on January 16th, when about 20 distinguished exhibitors co-signed a letter airing serious complaints about attendance and regulatory challenges affecting the show. Amidst some price and setup requests, they declared “it is not a good year for the show”.

In response, Art Basel made some concessions, but does not seem likely to consider postponing or cancelling the event – which has taken “a full year to produce,” according to a statement sent to PAI.

Although the fair’s website says 242 galleries will be participating, five have already dropped out of this list. And the management has referenced large financial losses that have already been incurred. One can only imagine the consequences should more galleries choose to follow suit.

One of the only upsides for the fair is the support from the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association (HKAGA) – made up of some 50 regional and international galleries – in whatever it chooses to do.

A statement sent to PAI said local galleries have worked to preserve the cultural landscape despite social and political upheaval in the past seven months and will continue to do so.

As of February 6th, Art Basel Hong Kong has been cancelled. Read about it here.