Art Basel Hong Kong, scheduled to take place from March 19th to 21st this year, has been cancelled due to “the outbreak and spread of the new coronavirus”, the fair’s organisers said in a statement on Thursday, February 6th.
The Swiss company, MCH Group, felt compelled to cancel the show after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a global health emergency this week.
Several factors are said to have informed the decision. Primarily the concern for the health and safety of those working at and attending the fair, as well as the severe logistical challenges facing the build-out and transit of artwork to the show.
The complications arising due to international travel in and out of Hong Kong were also a deterrent. But, the statement does not make any mention of political conditions which had caused doubts about the fair late last year.
In a previous announcement, the fair’s organisers said postponing or cancelling the event, which had taken a year to plan, would be a complex process involving many factors and stakeholders.
Bernd Stadlwieser, CEO of MCH Group said in a statement: “We explored every other possible option, including postponing the fair, and gathered advice and perspectives from many gallerists, partners, and external experts. However, today, we have no other option but to cancel the fair.”
Marc Spiegler, global director of Art Basel, said: “Our thoughts are with those affected by the recent coronavirus outbreak all around the world. We are acutely aware of the important role that the fair plays within the region’s cultural scene and for our galleries, both in Asia and around the globe.
“Unfortunately, the sudden outbreak and rapid spread of the novel coronavirus radically changed the situation.”
The fate of the fair already hung in the balance – owing to pro-democracy protests in the city – before the spread of coronavirus. Then, on January 16th, 20 international dealers and galleries sent a letter to director Spiegler and Art Basel’s director, Asia, Adeline Ooi, telling them “it is not a good year to hold this fair”.
Lia Rumma, one of the galleries that co-signed the letter, did not have faith in its Western collectors attending this year’s fair and told Private Art Investor: “With no flights and reduced cargo shipping services going from Italy to China, we have had to ask, ‘How will the fair be successful?’”
A representative for Art Basel told Private Art Investor that the company was “committed to refunding 75% of the booth fee”. However, when exhibitors asked for a 50% reduction of booth fees in the letter, the management dismissed it on the grounds of the financial impact that had already been caused.
MCH Group is also understood to be suffering under financial strain and shareholder obligations from investor group AMG, according to Artnet. “It is going to hit them hard,” said an independent advisor.
The next edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong will take place from March 25th to March 27th, 2021.