Art Basel Hong Kong Cancelled

The Art Newspaper is reporting that due to the coronavirus, Art Basel Hong Kong has been cancelled.  The fair has been struggling with many issues and dealer losses over the past few weeks, and it appears the coronovirus was what tipped the balance to cancel.  According to reports, in addition to the coronovirus the fair was dealing with issues such as dealers backing out of contracts,  concerns over attendance as freedom issues between Hong Kong and China and the various protest movements.

The Artnewspaper reports
After weeks of uncertainty, the organisers of Art Basel in Hong Kong have finally announced they are cancelling the eighth edition of the fair due to the coronavirus outbreak. "Numerous factors informed this decision, including: fundamental concern for the health and safety of all those working at and attending the fair; the severe logistical challenges facing the build-out and transit of artwork to the show; and the escalating difficulties complicating international travel, all arising as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus," the organisers said in a statement released today.

Marc Spiegler, the global director of Art Basel added that the decision to cancel Art Basel Hong Kong was "an extremely difficult one for us. We explored every other possible option before doing so, gathering advice and perspectives from many gallerists, collectors, partners and external experts".

"Our thoughts are with those affected by the recent coronavirus outbreak around the world," he adds.

The virus has so far infected more than 28,000 people in China and killed more than 560—more than during the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s. The World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus a global emergency on 30 January, prompting outcry from several dealers who said they could not send staff to work in such an environment.

In Hong Kong, where 18 cases have been confirmed, museums and schools have been closed and authorities said that beginning this weekend they would mandate that anyone entering the city from mainland China "self-quarantine" for the 14-day incubation period of the virus. There has also been widespread cancellation of flights in and out of the region and cross-border trains have been closed.

The New York-based dealer David Zwirner told ArtNews that he had pulled his Luc Tuymans exhibition, which was due to open in Hong Kong to coincide with the fair. The show will be moved to another of the gallery’s territories. Pace Gallery’s Hong Kong outpost is also closed until 4 February “due to the coronavirus outbreak”.

Spiegler says the fair organisers 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 across the globe. Our team dedicated extensive time and effort to ensure our show in March would be a success over the course of the past year. Unfortunately, the sudden outbreak and rapid spread of the novel coronavirus radically changed the situation".

Before the outbreak of the virus, fair organisers offered to refund 75% of booth costs if the fair was cancelled. Some dealers suggest Art Basel’s insurance should cover further costs, however, insurers say that epidemics and pandemics are often deliberately excluded from cover.

It is only the second time an edition of the Art Basel global franchise has been cancelled; the first edition of Art Basel in Miami Beach was postponed in 2001 after 9/11, costing the organisers an estimated $4m.

‘We are deeply grateful to our exhibitors, partners and friends all over the world, and especially in Hong Kong, who have stood by our side, lent their support, and shared insights and opinions over the past days and months," says Adeline Ooi, the director of Art Basel, Asia. "Our commitment to Asia and Hong Kong has not changed, and we look forward to the 2021 edition."

Art Basel had faced increasing pressure from dealers to cancel the fair in the lead up to the announcement. According to The Canvas industry-insider newsletter last week, 12 dealers had already confirmed they would not participate, while 24 leading galleries including Lévy Gorvy, Lisson and Paula Cooper wrote a letter to the organisers on 16 January expressing concerns over a drop off in the number of collectors and patrons attending, as well as threats to freedom of expression due to increased Chinese control in the semi-autonomous region.

The pro-democracy protests that have rocked Hong Kong for the past seven months had also put a strain on business—the number of collectors expected to attend the fair had been significantly lower. Adding to the malaise, artists had also voiced concerns to their galleries about exhibiting in a region where freedom of expression has been increasingly curtailed by Beijing.

“Many of our artists are unwilling to have their work shown at the fair,” the exhibitors wrote, because increasing Chinese control is not “consistent with their core belief in the freedom of expression”.

One anonymous dealer said the fair would have been “a full scale disaster” if it had gone ahead, while the London dealer Richard Nagy had described the show as “fatally wounded” and “commercially on artificial life support”.

Despite this, fair organisers refused to pull the plug, saying they were “working hard to review all possible options”, but to cancel or postpone was “a complex process, with many factors and multiple stakeholders”.

Other casualties of the Coronavirus include the new X Museum, which was due to open in Beijing on 17 March. On a post on Instagram, the co-founder Michael Xufu Huang said: “In order to fully co-operate with the prevention and control of the outbreak, the opening […] has been delayed.” The VIP preview and dinner on 15 March have also been postponed indefinitely. Meanwhile, the CAFA Art Museum has postponed its inaugural triennial, which had been due to open on 18 January. Art Central, which runs concurrent to ABHK, has not yet issued any statement regarding the coronavirus or its plans.
Source: The Artnewspaper 

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