Art Basel cancels Hong Kong fair

HONG KONG • This year’s edition of Art Basel Hong Kong, one of the most important destinations in the international art market calendar, has been cancelled, with organisers citing the “sudden and widespread outbreak” of the coronavirus in China.

The fair, held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and featuring premier galleries from Asia and beyond, was to run from March 17 to 21.

“The decision to cancel Art Basel Hong Kong was an extremely difficult one for us,” said Mr Bernd Stadlwieser, chief executive of MCH Group, the Swiss-based company behind the fair.

“We explored every other possible option, including postponing the fair, and gathered advice and perspectives from many gallerists, partners and external experts. However, today, we have no other option but to cancel the fair,” he said.

MCH cited numerous factors, including the health and safety of fair workers and visitors, the logistical challenges of mounting the event and the escalating difficulties of travel to Hong Kong, which reported its first fatality from the virus last Tuesday.

Participating dealers have called for the closure of the fair after Hong Kong shut down museums and schools, and limited flights from mainland China.

Last Wednesday, London-based dealer Richard Nagy, one of more than 240 exhibitors at the event, sent an e-mail to the organisers.

“Not one of our foreign clients will be attending, and they are surprised the fair is still on,” Mr Nagy wrote.

“There is absolutely no doubt in our minds that this art fair is now commercially on artificial life support.”

The e-mail concluded that the fair was “fatally wounded” and needed to be “put out of its misery.”

Mr Ben Brown, an exhibitor at the fair this year, said of the cancellation, “I feel sadness”.

Mr Brown, who has galleries in London and Hong Kong, said: “I can understand that people just don’t want to go.

“It’s better to cancel the fair than have a fair where everybody loses money.”