Hong Kong (courtesy of Colin Tsoi/Flickr)

In a press release issued today, Art Basel’s parent company, MCH Group, announced its decision to cancel the 2020 edition of Art Basel Hong Kong “due to the outbreak and spread of the new coronavirus.” The fair, which was scheduled to open on March 19, has been the subject of increasing controversy over the last few weeks. Numerous international galleries asked the fair for significant concessions on the basis of political uncertainty in the region and, more recently, dealers have openly called for its cancellation due to concerns around the coronavirus.

“MCH has no option but to cancel the upcoming edition of Art Basel Hong Kong,” reads the statement. “Numerous factors informed this decision, including fundamental concern for the health and safety of all those working at and attending the fair; the severe logistical challenges facing the build-out and transit of artwork to the show; and the escalating difficulties complicating international travel, all arising as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus.”

MCH’s statement does not make any mention of ongoing protests in Hong Kong or the political conditions affecting the city, the initial reason a group of galleries signed a letter of concern to Art Basel three weeks ago.

“Our thoughts are with those affected by the recent coronavirus outbreak all around the world. We are acutely aware of the important role that the fair plays within the region’s cultural scene and for our galleries, both in Asia and around the globe,” said Marc Spiegler, Global Director of Art Basel. “Our team dedicated extensive time and effort to ensure our show in March would be a success over the course of the past year. Unfortunately, the sudden outbreak and rapid spread of the novel coronavirus radically changed the situation.”

According to the statement, the next edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong will take place from March 25-27, 2021.

Update 2/7/2020 1:22pm EST: Art Basel will refund galleries slated to participate in its now canceled Hong Kong fair this year 75% of the booth fee, according to a fair spokesperson. MCH Group, Art Basel’s parent company, announced its decision to call off the fair yesterday due to diverse concerns related to the rapidly spreading coronavirus.

A few weeks ago, the fair’s organizers had reportedly refused participating galleries’ request for a 50% reduction in booth fees, describing the concession as “financially untenable.” But that was when galleries were still primarily concerned about the political situation in Hong Kong, and not the threat of the new coronavirus, which is the only reason Art Basel has invoked for its cancellation so far.

In 2018, Art Basel introduced a sliding scale pricing model to offset disproportionately high booth costs for smaller galleries in all its fairs. The new model was first applied in its flagship fair in Basel, Switzerland in 2019. According to the 2018 guidelines, the costs of participating in that fair were CHF 760 (~$777) per square meter for a booth measuring 25 square meters and CHF 905 ( ~$925) per square meter for a booth of 124 square meters. Art Basel said it planned to implement similar guidelines for its Miami and Hong Kong editions.

Based on 2019 Art Basel Hong Kong pricing, with the fair’s refund policy of 75% of the booth cost, a gallery committed to a 25-square-meter booth would be refunded $14,568 of the $19,425 total cost it paid for the stand.

Another fair running parallel to Art Basel Hong Kong, Art Central, also announced its cancellation of this year’s show, programmed for March 18-22. A press release issued today said Art Central’s decision came “in order to protect the health and safety of all participants.” 

Art Central has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for more information regarding booth fees and refunds for exhibitors.

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...