As the coronavirus pandemic continues to roil the global economy, among the hardest hit have been art galleries around the world. With those financial effects in mind, Art Basel, which organizes three art fairs in Hong Kong, Miami Beach, and Switzerland, told exhibitors in an email today that it has created contingency plans in the event that the two fairs slated to place later this year are canceled as a result of the coronavirus.
In its email, Art Basel outlined that it will fully refund the fees already paid by exhibitors if a cancelation were to occur. (It is still uncertain whether the fairs will happen as planned, as it is unclear when mass gatherings might be able to resume around the world, including in Switzerland where the next Art Basel fair is scheduled to take place.) Exhibitors also now have until June 1, as opposed to the original deadline of this Friday, to decide if they will still participate in the September Swiss fair, saying that it “has become increasingly clear that date is too early—for us and for our galleries—to make a decision about how to proceed.”
The plan to fully refund fees is a marked change for Art Basel, which earlier this year only refunded 75 percent of fees when it was forced to cancel its Hong Kong fair because of the coronavirus pandemic. (The fair said that the 25 percent of retained fees will also now be applied for use at a future fair in any of its three locations.)
“We resolutely believe … that physical interactions will remain essential to experiencing, discovering, and selling art in the future, as well as to building the paramount personal relationships that underpin the art world,” the letter—signed by its three top leaders, Marc Spiegler, Noah Horowitz, and Adeline Ooi—reads. “Right now, though, the challenge that Art Basel faces is determining how we can help to sustain our galleries until our fairs recommence, alongside trying to imagine and define how the art fair of the future might differ from that of the past.
In the letter, the fair said it will host an online version of the Swiss iteration of the fair, which has been postponed from June to September. (Online viewing rooms were launched in March in lieu of the Hong Kong edition, where exhibitors reported steady sales.) Similarly, it is looking into other ways to use the platform to help galleries that have exhibited at the fair, as well as updating its Gallery Guide to help promote the digital projects that galleries are already undertaking. The fair also said it is considering ways to reduce the costs for fair participation for future editions.
Though the letter didn’t mention the recent layoffs at its parent company, it hinted at the fact that it is still difficult to predict when all the uncertainty will even end, the letter said, adding, “At the moment, there are simply too many open questions.”