As pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong continue, Art Basel is allowing dealers a little flexibility in deciding whether or not to participate in its annual fair in the city in March. At this point, galleries wanting to drop out of the fair would normally have to pay the full cost of their booth, but Art Basel sent an email to galleries on Monday lowering the withdrawal fee to 75 percent until December 23rd. Galleries can now reduce the size of their booths to save money. Art Basel also said if it had to cancel the 2020 edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong “for reasons outside of our control,” it would also refund at least 75 percent of each booth’s costs, according to ARTnews.
This shift in policy comes as Art Basel seeks to assuage galleries’ concerns about how the protests may affect business at the Hong Kong fair. Last month, Art Basel decided to offer discounts at local hotels and restaurants, as well as lower fees for services that exhibitors use for booth planning. No galleries have withdrawn from the fair since Art Basel formally announced its exhibitor list in October, though two galleries reportedly dropped out before then.
Sean Kelly, a gallerist participating in Art Basel in Hong Kong next year, pointed to the tension between supporting the protesters and showing at the fair. He told ARTnews:
When one sees the images in the media, one feels very strongly that one wants to stand for those fighting for democracy and in some cases their lives. But the corollary to that is if one doesn’t attend the fair, one is letting down a much larger percentage of the population who voted resoundingly and definitely supported democracy but at the same time … are people who are trying to support their family.
Tourism levels in Hong Kong have dropped significantly since the protests started in June, and Art Basel Hong Kong tends to draw art lovers from around the world.