Few were shocked earlier this month when Art Basel canceled its Hong Kong fair, as the coronavirus led to the deaths of hundreds in mainland China. Even though exhibitors were offered a 75 percent refund from the fair, some had expressed concerns that the fair’s cancellation could significantly hobble the business of the galleries who were set to participate, and now Art Basel has come up with a quick fix for the enterprises that were set to bring their wares to Hong Kong in March.
On Thursday, Art Basel said it would give those galleries an opportunity to sell their work via online viewing rooms. These online sales areas will be live from March 20 through 25, and there will be VIP preview days on March 18 and 19, as well as on the morning of March 20. The viewing rooms will be accessible via Art Basel’s website and the fair’s app, and will be available to exhibitors at no additional cost.
Marc Spiegler, the fair’s global director, said in a statement, “As the art market continues to evolve, Art Basel has continually investigated how new technologies can give us new opportunities to support our galleries. The online viewing rooms will provide galleries with a further possibility for engaging with our global audiences, complementing the essential personal interactions that continue to underlie the art market.”
Art Basel’s latest pivot is another sign that online viewing rooms could prove lucrative in the years to come. Gagosian and David Zwirner, which both started their online viewing rooms in 2018, have set records by selling through these platforms, with works by Albert Oehlen and Yayoi Kusama being purchased at prices that approach the $2 million mark. In 2019, Sam Orlofsky, a director at Gagosian, told ARTnews that online viewing rooms make prices more easily accessible and do away with a kind of opacity often associated with the market. “It bridges the greatest gap between us and potential buyers,” he said.