Over the past week, art institutions in China and Hong Kong have shuttered in an effort to contain the rapidly-spreading coronavirus, which has infected 7,711 people and killed 170 so far. Today, the CAFA Art Museum (CAFAM) in Beijing announced its decision to suspend the inaugural edition of its CAFAM Techne Triennial, an ambitious exhibition of media art scheduled to open on February 20. More than 130 artists and collectives planned to exhibit their work in the museum’s 5,000-square-meter space, including Alex Da Corte, Wang Gongxin, Hito Steyerl, Tauba Auerbach, Zhang Peili, and Hans Haacke.
In a press release sent this morning, CAFAM director Zhang Zikang explained the decision to postpone the triennial in order to “reduce mass gathering amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.” A new date for the triennial will be communicated soon, according to the statement. “We apologize for any inconvenience caused by this change, and hope that you understand the unexpected and complex situation we are facing,” added Zhang.
The Union Art Museum in Wuhan, the National Art Museum of China in Beijing, the Guangdong Art Museum in Guangzhou, the Beijing Palace Museum, the National Library of China, and the Great Wall of China are among the institutions and landmarks that chose to close their doors in response to the epidemic.
Meanwhile, galleries are waiting to hear whether Art Basel Hong Kong fair, scheduled to open on March 17, will move forward. Many participants had already objected to the fair due to political unrest and uncertainty in the region, but the fair has yet to budge.
Now, the coronavirus outbreak seems to be cornering the fair’s organizers into a definitive decision. “Art Basel is taking the recent outbreak and spread of the new coronavirus extremely seriously,” said an Art Basel representative in an email statement. “We are closely monitoring the developments and recommendations issued by the World Health Organization and national governments, as well as consulting directly with relevant experts. We will provide updates on the implications for our Hong Kong show as soon as possible.”
“Hong Kong is not the place where anyone wants to go right now,” said Janelle Reiring, co-founder of Metro Pictures Gallery in New York, in an article in the South China Morning Post. “Because of the politics, the protests and now the virus. No one wants to send people to work there the way things are.”
On Wednesday, the London-based dealer Richard Nagy echoed the sentiment in a letter to the fair’s organizers. “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,” he wrote. “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.”