Art Basel responds to scathing letter from exhibitors

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Art Basel Hong Kong 2019, held from March 29th - 31st. Courtesy of Art Basel.

Art Basel’s global director, Marc Spiegler and director, Asia, Adeline Ooi have released an update addressing growing concerns over its Hong Kong show, due to take place between March 19th and 21st this year.

The letter, addressed to exhibitors at the eighth edition of the fair, reassures them that the fair’s management is working hard to review all possible options in the wake of the coronavirus. 

It comes as a response to 20 international dealers and galleries, who recently co-signed a scathing letter to Art Basel management, including Spiegler and Ooi, telling them “many people who normally attend the fair have indicated that they will not attend this year,” and that many of their artists were unwilling to have their work displayed under the current political duress.

“It is not a good year to hold this fair,” they concluded.

The directors were worried about its exhibitors’ safety, however said in their response: “The contemplation of postponing or cancelling an event of this scale — which takes a full year to produce — is a complex process, with many factors and multiple stakeholders.”  

Exhibitors included Blum & Poe, Lisson Gallery and Nara Roesler – also requested an extension on the deadline to pay until late February, the ability to reduce booth sizes without penalty; no late fees for orders of booth materials; and, most importantly, a 50% reduction on booth fees across the board, according to Wet Paint.

Given the rising tensions, the late order fee was extended to January 31st and exhibitors were reassured that the fair would consider extending due dates for their payments. Art Basel stated that it had already offered them a chance to reduce booth sizes and dismissed the 50% reduction fee instantly, according to the email forwarded to Artnet from one of the galleries.        

HKAGA and other galleries

The Hong Kong Art Gallery Association (HKAGA), consisting of 50 international and regional galleries, has announced its unanimous support of the region and Art Basel’s eventual decision about the fair.

Citing this as one of the most tumultuous periods in history, HKAGA said, in a statement: “HKAGA will do its utmost to make March’s art week as eventful as possible, even should Art Basel Hong Kong 2020 be cancelled.

The art fair coordinator at Lia Rumma, one of the galleries that co-signed the letter, 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?’”

She said the gallery has supported the show before it was owned by Art Basel and is eagerly awaiting a decision from the fair’s management. “For our Italian collectors – which is a big part of our client base – attending this year is not even an option,” she added.   

Private Art Investor also requested comment from MCH Group (which organises Art Basel in Basel, Miami and Hong Kong), Tina Keng Gallery, Lévy Gorvy, Kamel Mannour and Sprüth Magers. None provided comment at the time of publication.