After weeks of back and forth, it has been decided that Art Basel Hong Kong, the prestigious art fair won’t be holding its 2020 event due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The marquee event was slated to commence from March 17 to 21 but was officially canceled on February 6 after the World Health Organization deemed the coronavirus a global emergency. Plus, after months of political protests throughout the region, Art Basel came to this conclusion.
Originally, the event was going to be postponed but without an end in sight to the outbreak, the directors of Art Basel wrote that they had no option but to cancel completely. Art Central, the event that happens alongside Art Basel has also been canceled.
What’s the latest on the coronavirus outbreak in Hong Kong?
As of early February, Hong Kong reported 24 active cases of the coronavirus with one death. Their Beijing-based government has done its best to avoid a complete travel ban from mainland China, as many other countries have issued in lieu of the coronavirus, but after the death of one of their citizens, they’ve begun to take things more seriously.
Currently, Hong Kong has mandated travelers coming from mainland China to a 14-day quarantine in their homes.
How is the art world responding to the cancelation of Art Basel Hong Kong?
As you can imagine, local galleries and registered patrons of this year’s Art Basel Hong Kong have responded to the news with resignation and disappointment. But, they’re understanding of the decision and hopeful that the 2021 event will be back stronger than ever.
Hong Kong is the most important venue for Art Basel in Asia so the city’s art scene is certainly saddened by the news. Still, it seems everyone is pulling together to make sure that Hong Kong remains a powerful hub for the Art Basel show in the future.
The directors are promising dealers a 75% reimbursement of their stand fees and the general noise from gallery owners and artists is supportive of Art Basel and Art Central’s decision to cancel.
As mentioned, Art Basel is a major art event for the Asian region, partially for commercial sales, but also for networking with international artists and patrons. Leaders in the space are concerned about what these means for their galleries and artists.
Still, Fabio Rossi, co-president of the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association feels that the cancelation is an opportunity to reinvigorate the local art scene by focusing on what already exists for Hong Kong residents.
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Other leaders in Hong Kong’s art space are using the cancelation to reassess the business models of their own galleries. Henrietta Tsui-Leung, founder and CEO of Galerie Ora-Ora said, “The cancellation proves to us over and over that we need to beef up our online presence,” which is an interesting takeaway from the situation.
She also notes that Hong Kong artists should strive to be more active in the US and European markets to cope when things don’t go to plan on the local level. “I just think we need to be more proactive and think of creative ways – not always just fairs anymore.”
Others agree with Rossi that local fairs will fill the void of Art Basel Hong Kong in 2020 to keep audiences hungry for high-quality art. Overall, regional artists and curators are confident that the cancellation is just motivation that will move their market forward.
How else has Asian art been affected by the coronavirus?
While not all art functions are being canceled – for example, Rossi went ahead with the opening of his gallery on February 15 – most are at least being postponed.
In Beijing, the UCCA Center for Contemporary Arts has extended its Lunar New Year closure indefinitely and has postponed its major upcoming exhibitions such as Immaterial/Re-material as well as a Yan Xing show.
Gallery Weekend Beijing which was supposed to happen from March 13 to 20 has also been postponed and new private art museums like the He Art Museum in Foshan are pushing back their grand openings until the coronavirus outbreak is under control.
While it’s a shame that the coronavirus is causing so many issues in the Asian region, it’s understandable why the government in mainland China and Hong Kong are taking extreme precautions. However, the coronavirus is affecting international art shows as well.
For example, performing artists Xiao Ke and Zi Han were expected to perform What is Chinese in Melbourne, Australia for the Asia-Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts. However, they were unable to board their outbound flight due to Australia’s travel ban that bars travelers from mainland China to enter the country.
As the Asian art market continues to grow as a superpower in the scene, it’s likely that these international travel bans will prevent countless artists from traveling to share their art.
Still, with the coronavirus outbreak, art galleries and canceled exhibitions are far from top-of-mind. The health and safety of residents is the country’s top priority at the moment and as a community, everyone is doing their best to be helpful and collaborative.
Hopefully, this chaotic outbreak will be under control sooner than later and from there, we will surely start to see some incredible artwork come out of the Chinese region in response to this powerful virus.