Twenty-four galleries, including prominent enterprises such as Lévy Gorvy, Lisson Gallery, and Paula Cooper, have sent a letter to Art Basel global director Marc Spiegler and Adeline Ooi, the fair’s Asia director, expressing concerns over the precarious political and financial situation surrounding the 2020 Hong Kong edition.
“Many people who normally attend the fair have indicated that they will not attend this year,” the letter, first shared with Artnet News, read. “Many of our artists are unwilling to have their work shown at the fair.”
Those artists, the galleries claimed, were hesitant to bring their work to the event, which is slated to run from March 19 to 21, because of a nationwide crackdown on freedom of expression that has resulted in months of bitter protests. The letter concluded that 2020 “is not a good year to hold this fair.”
Despite months of violent anti-government demonstrations in the city, Art Basel organizers have maintained that the fair will not be canceled. “Some of you might be wondering if Art Basel is making an unconsidered decision by continuing to plan on holding an art fair in March amidst the unrest that we are witnessing in Hong Kong,” Ooi, wrote in an email to the exhibitors in November. “The answer is: we are not.” At the time, the fair offered wary exhibitors discounts at Hong Kong restaurants and hotels, in addition to discounted fees for services involved with transporting art to the fair.
It seems that such discounts may not be enough to lure major galleries into holding on to their booths at the fair, however. The letter signatories have called for a number of concessions, including a 50 percent reduction on booth fees, options to reduce their booths’ size without penalty, and an extension on their payment deadline. Additionally, they have asked for options for affordable insurance coverage, which currently is offered through brokers at 20 times the normal rate.
In response, Spiegler and Ooi wrote in a letter to 24 exhibitors at the fair who penned the original letter that “VIP registration numbers are consistent overall with previous years—and especially strong from the Asian region, where we have actually seen an increase in VIP registration from mainland China.” They continued, “We fully acknowledge that this year is not business as usual, and we are thus doing everything we can to support all the galleries coming to Hong Kong.”
Spiegler and Ooi said in their letter that 15 percent of exhibitors, including nine of the letter’s signatories, have already been allowed to reduce their booth size. Art Basel Hong Kong denied requests for a 50 percent booth fee reduction, though the organizers have agreed to “work with exhibitors on alternate payment plans upon special request, and we are very willing to offer extended payment terms.” Currently, 241 exhibitors will participate in March, joined by three galleries soon to be added from the fairs waiting list. Five dealers have pulled out, including Luxembourg & Dayan, Tyler Rollins Fine Art, and SCAI the Bathhouse.
The full list of signatories includes: 303 Gallery, Miguel Abreu Gallery, Alfonso Artiaco, Blum & Poe, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Gavin Brown’s enterprise, Paula Cooper Gallery, Pilar Corrias, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Thomas Dane Gallery, Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, François Ghebaly, Greene Naftali, Herald St, Lévy Gorvy, Lisson Gallery, Matthew Marks Gallery, Fergus McCaffrey, kamel mennour, Metro Pictures, OMR, Nara Roesler, Lia Rumma, and Sprüth Magers.