Art Basel Hong Kong Announces Cancellation Amidst Coronavirus Outbreak

Art Basel Hong Kong 2019. Image copyright and courtesy of Art Basel.
Encounters at Art Basel Hong Kong 2019 showing Lee Bul’s a smaller version of her Willing to Be Vulnerable – Metalized Balloon, 2015–2016. Image copyright and courtesy of Art Basel.

In an official statement released on 7 February (Friday), Art Basel Hong Kong announced the cancellation of its forthcoming edition, which was slated to open to the public on 19 March at the Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre.

TEXT: Cobo Social News
IMAGE: Courtesy of Art Basel


Art Basel Hong Kong 2019. Image copyright and courtesy of Art Basel.


Citing public health and safety as its primary reason for cancellation, Marc Spiegler, Global Director, Art Basel said, “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. 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 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.”

The statement listed several other factors that informed the final decision including “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.”

“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. Our commitment to Asia and Hong Kong has not changed, and we look forward to the 2021 edition,” said Adeline Ooi, Director Asia, Art Basel.

It has undoubtedly been a tense few weeks as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (nCoV) gripped the world. With over 28,000 cases and more than 560 deaths globally—although mostly in the epicentre of Wuhan and neighbouring Chinese provinces—the epidemic has put the world at a near standstill since late January. As travel bans, flight cancellations and facemask shortages heightened in Hong Kong, gallerists, dealers and collectors alike have placed increasing pressure on the organizers of Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK) and its parent company, MCH Group, to determine the fate of its forthcoming edition.

Opinions have been split, however. As numerous Western galleries called for the cancellation of the fair—some with intense criticisms—representatives from the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association pushed back on behalf of many locally-based galleries arguing for the fair to continue, calling out critics abroad for holding a myopic view. Nonetheless as the spread of the epidemic hit global proportions, many local galleries and museums have all temporarily suspended operations, and cancellation and postponement announcements began to surface. Among them, David Zwirner who cancelled a Luc Tuymans show and HK Walls, whose annual street art commissions have become a highlight event of Hong Kong Art Week, published their postponement on Instagram.

Prior to the outbreak, frictions were already high since anti-government protests began in Hong Kong last June. The city fell into a technical recession within months, and as the radical violence reached a peak, anxious exhibitors were already seeking answers from the fair. At the time, the fair stood firm by its commitment to the city, quashing rumours fair organizers was looking for a new location.


Encounters at Art Basel Hong Kong 2019 showing Lee Bul’s a smaller version of her Willing to Be Vulnerable – Metalized Balloon, 2015–2016. Image copyright and courtesy of Art Basel.


Art Basel Hong Kong, which held its first edition in 2013 after MCH Group bought up what was formerly Art HK, has been a landmark event for the bustling city. In the span of less than a decade, it has placed Hong Kong on the map as the centre of the art market in Asia. With a strong commitment to Asia, the Hong Kong edition of Art Basel attracts more than 200 galleries a year, 50 percent of them pertaining to the region or with outposts in the city. It is now recognized as one of the key dates in the global art world calendar, with collectors, curators, artists and fairgoers travelling from around the world.

The unprecedented cancellation just six weeks before it was scheduled to open, although perhaps not such a surprise in light of the current public health crisis, will likely affect the city and the region. Following closely on the heel of ABHK’s announcement, Art Central has also follow suit and cancelled this year’s fair, and although many local galleries have spoken out and most will continue with their planned exhibitions, Hong Kong will be preparing itself for a dampened art week next month.

The next edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong will take place from March 25 to March 27, 2021.


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