Art Basel Takes Digital Turn After Hong Kong Cancellation

Tom Burroughes Group Editor 25 February 2020

Art Basel Takes Digital Turn After Hong Kong Cancellation

Digital technology rides to the rescue of a major art fair that has been scrubbed because of the virus outbreak.

Organisers of the Art Basel annual art fair in Hong Kong, which has been cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis, are using digital technology so that disappointed viewers can look at artworks.

The fair had been slated to go ahead in mid-March but was called off earlier in February as the virus outbreak intensified. As of the time of writing, more than 2,600 people have died, mostly in China, media reports said. There have been outbreaks in countries such as South Korea and most recently, Italy (also an important market for art-loving tourists). The event is one of several major events hit by the crisis.

Art Basel announced that it is launching Online Viewing Rooms, a digital platform for its galleries and collectors. The platform goes live on 20 March.

"Online Viewing Rooms will give visitors the opportunity to browse thousands of artworks presented by Art Basel participating galleries, many of which will be online exclusives. The exhibiting gallery can then be contacted directly for sales inquiries. The Viewing Rooms will run in parallel to the three shows in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong," the organisation said.

"The Online Viewing Rooms will provide galleries with a further possibility for engaging with our global audiences," Marc Spiegler, global director, Art Basel, said.

Art Basel said the March launch event will show works of art that would have featured in the cancelled Hong Kong event. All galleries accepted for the 2020 Hong Kong show have been invited to take part, at no cost for the first edition.

With fine art being an important collectable passion for many high net worth individuals - and a niche investment as well - the art market has become a barometer of wider wealth trends. The rollout of a digital platform also highlights how online channels now take a share of the global auction market, competing with physical events.

"We are delighted to be able to premiere this new initiative now," Adeline Ooi, director for Asia, Art Basel, said. "While the Online Viewing Rooms cannot replace our 2020 fair in Hong Kong, we firmly hope that it will provide a strong support to all the galleries who were affected by the cancellation of our March show."

The art fair is one of the world's largest and the biggest in Asia. According to CNN (7 February) it attracted almost 90,000 visitors from over 70 countries in 2019. The report noted that other arts and design events in China and the surrounding region have been hit. Design Shanghai, due to take place in March, has been rescheduled to late May; Gallery Weekend Beijing and the inaugural CAFAM Techne Triennial have been postponed. Art Central - another fair held during Hong Kong Art Week - also called off its show.

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