As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc on the world, causing global concern, illnesses, and in some places, death, Art Basel Hong Kong has now fallen victim to the outbreak. Yesterday afternoon, the 2020 edition of the fair, which was set to run from March 19th through March 21st, was cancelled due to the virus and concerns for the health and safety of fair workers and visitors.
‘The decision to cancel Art Basel Hong Kong was an extremely difficult one for us,’ said Bernd Stadlwieser, chief executive of the Swiss-based company, MCH Group, who operates the fair, 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.’
The announcement comes after Hong Kong closed museums and schools last week in an attempt to stifle the spread of the virus, which claimed its first victim in Hong Kong on February 3rd. It also follows the onset of an economic recession in Hong Kong due to ongoing protests in the city. Coronavirus’ grip on Asian countries and its epicenter’s proximity to Hong Kong had the art world closely watching the MCH Group to know if the fair would be called off for the year. Many urged the fair to cancel including Richard Nagy, a London-based dealer who routinely features in Art Basel Hong Kong. In an email on Wednesday, Nagy wrote: ‘Not one of our foreign clients will be attending, and they are surprised the fair is still on. There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that this art fair is now commercially on artificial life support.’ Nagy continued stating that the fair should be ‘put out of its misery’ after it was ‘fatally wounded’ by the coronavirus.
Art Basel Hong Kong is among the most anticipated fairs on the fair circuit featuring more than 200 galleries from Asia and other areas around the world. According to the emailed statement, Art Basel Hong Kong will refund galleries that planned to participate 75 percent of their booth fee and they will not be charged for special arrangements that were made in anticipation for the fair. This is a shift from a previous message relayed by Art Basel organizers, which mentioned only a 50 percent reimbursement if the fair were to be cancelled.
The virus has now claimed more than 600 lives in China and there has been one death in Hong Kong and the Philippines due to the outbreak, according to live updates by The Guardian. More than 31,000 people are infected in China and globally, 28 countries report a combined total of more than 280 cases of coronavirus. A number of airlines have cancelled and reduced services to China and before the fair was cancelled, Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, ordered a self-quarantine of all entrants attending from China, which would have severely limited the number of participants from China. The World Health Organization has also labeled the outbreak as a global health emergency.