On Wednesday, Bloomberg ran a report on dealers calling on Art Basel to cancel the eighth edition of the fair over fears of the coronavirus, which has now affected more than 7,000 people and led to 170 deaths. Today, the fair sent out a letter to dealers telling them their team is “working hard to review all possible options.” Earlier this week, Hong Kong closed museums and schools, and earlier today, just hours after Basel sent out its letter, the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency.
This morning, the Canvas newsletter reported on a meeting between fair organizers and an expectation among “multiple dealers and two sources within Art Basel” that the fair would be cancelled “imminently.” According to the Canvas, 12 dealers—whose names were not reported—have plan to drop out. The newsletter’s sources said the fair was likely waiting to hear the results of the WHO’s determination on whether to declare a public health emergency. But several dealers suggested to ARTnews that negotiations with the city’s convention center might equally be an issue.
In a letter sent to exhibitors less than two hours before the W.H.O. declared a global public health emergency, three Art Basel organizers—Noah Horowitz, the director Americas; Adeline Ooi, the director Asia; and Marc Spiegler, the global director—said that the fair was worried about its exhibitors’ safety, but that calling off the event would be a complex and arduous process.
“This is a challenging time for all of us,” the letter reads. “Our team is working hard to review all possible options. Needless to say, the contemplation of postponing or cancelling an event of this scale—which takes a full year to produce—is a complex process, with many factors and multiple stakeholders.”
They continued, “The health and well-being of you, your team, our team, and everyone involved is of paramount concern, and we are equally cognizant of the many impending deadlines. We fully recognize the urgency of the situation, and we will provide a resolution as soon as we can.”
Bloomberg reported on Thursday that a letter that was sent to Art Basel organized by veteran London-based dealer Richard Nagy, which included the passage, “Regretfully, we believe this situation needs decisive leadership and the fatally wounded Art Basel Hong Kong 2020 needs to be put out of its misery and quickly. Having taken soundings and we can tell you, not one of our foreign clients will be attending and they are surprised the fair is still on.”
One exhibiting dealer who asked not to be named told ARTnews today, “There is no way we are going,” and characterized what is happening as a “game of chicken” where the fair will “wait until the last minute” to announce a cancellation.
David Zwirner told ARTnews today that he has canceled the Luc Tuymans exhibition planned for his Hong Kong gallery in March during the time of the fair; that exhibition will go to another of the gallery’s locations, Zwirner said. He added that the painter Lisa Yuskavage, whose work is currently slated to be featured in Zwirner’s Hong Kong booth, will not travel there.
The dealer said his Hong Kong gallery will be closed for an extra week after the usual break for Chinese New Year. The website for Pace Gallery’s Hong Kong space, which currently has a Chuck Close show on view, bears the notice: “Please note that due to the coronavirus outbreak, our gallery in Hong Kong will be closed until February 4, 2020.”
Zwirner emphasized that “Art Basel is a good fair for all of us and our business. We want it in Hong Kong, Basel, and Miami.” He views the cancelation as a matter of time. “They will do the right thing.”