Art Market

Hong Kong galleries voiced support for Art Basel amid calls to cancel its local fair due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Christy Kuesel
Feb 3, 2020 5:26PM, via South China Morning Post

Residents wait to buy face masks from a Hong Kong pharmacy. Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images.

After international exhibitors called for the cancellation of Art Basel in Hong Kong due to the coronavirus outbreak, local galleries are rallying around the fair organizers and the region’s arts scene. The Hong Kong Art Gallery Association, comprising over 50 Hong Kong-based galleries, released a statement on Friday defending Art Basel and saying that overseas galleries are misinformed about the situation on the ground, in part due to sensational media reports.

According to South China Morning Post, the association said in a statement:

Culture and the arts hold a special place within the city and we know the arts will continue to thrive here, despite often myopic and narrow coverage or comments from abroad. We, as residents of this city, understand that the decision to continue or cancel the fair is not a decision that can be made lightly or with haste. [...] Provided a healthy and safe environment within the city, the HKAGA will do it's utmost to make March's “art week” as eventful as possible, even should Art Basel Hong Kong 2020 be cancelled.

In January, 24 galleries signed a letter demanding financial concessions from the fair and highlighting concerns about their own participation in light of Hong Kong’s ongoing pro-democracy protests. After the coronavirus outbreak, London art dealer Richard Nagy wrote his own letter, saying the fair needed “to be put out of its misery and quickly.” As of Monday, there have been 362 deaths reported from coronavirus; another 17,491 people are said to be infected by the illness, 15 of whom are in Hong Kong.

Willem Molesworth, co-vice president of the association and director of De Sarthe Gallery, told SCMP: “The coronavirus is something else entirely, and very well could justify cancellation, but to misrepresent the nature of the current situation is unjust to the city.”

Art Basel in Hong Kong isn’t slated to open until March 19th, but Hong Kong’s largest annual arts event, the Hong Kong Arts Festival, which is less than two weeks away, is struggling to forge ahead amid the coronavirus outbreak. The festival drew almost 90,000 people last year, but many performance venues set to host the event’s largest gatherings have been shuttered indefinitely due to the health threats posed by convening large groups of people in enclosed spaces.

Meanwhile, in mainland China two highly anticipated museums have postponed their openings due to the virus: He Art Museum in Guangdong has pushed its opening date back indefinitely, while X Museum is postponing until April.

Christy Kuesel