Art Basel is usually a bustling event, drawing thousands of art fans and buyers to the cities of Basel, Miami, and Hong Kong to check out the latest in contemporary art. But with all the coronavirus-related closures and shelter-in-place orders happening right now, it’s pretty hard to get out of the house, let alone travel to an international art exhibition.
Unsurprisingly, Art Basel Hong Kong and its satellite fair Art Central were canceled this month, leaving a lot of artists and gallerists worried about lost sales and opportunities. To temper those worries, the fair has debuted a brand new feature: online viewing rooms.
About 90 percent of exhibitors have opted to take part in a special digital exhibition, displaying more than 2,000 works worth $270 million USD entirely on the internet, with many dealers opening their own digital galleries full of additional works. You can search the archive by gallery, artist, and medium to navigate each collection, and you can even make an offer to buy many of the pieces, if you feel so inclined.
The experience of entering each virtual “room” allows you to browse different works by each artist as if they’re being displayed on a gallery wall. Different themed collections include “minimal avant-garde,” “abstractions,” “material and form in contemporary art,” “forward in time,” and “mythical spaces: nature and urban.” Users can click on individual images to see them up close.
“As the art market continues to evolve, Art Basel has continually investigated how new technologies can give us new opportunities to support our galleries,” says Marc Spiegler, Global Director of Art Basel. “The Online Viewing Rooms will provide galleries with a further possibility for engaging with our global audiences, complementing the essential personal interactions that continue to underlie the art market.”
“We are delighted to be able to premiere this new initiative now,” says Adeline Ooi, Director Asia of Art Basel. “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.”
So far, dealers are reporting mixed success, but many have chosen to withhold their most expensive works for now. Some are doing just fine, selling works like Jenny Holzer’s XX 8 for $350,000. Another work by Paul McCarthy reportedly sold to a buyer quarantined in France after testing positive for the virus.
“More importantly, it’s a platform that is keeping us connected to the art community,” says dealer Thaddeus Ropac.
Founded in 1970 by gallerists from Basel, Switzerland, Art Basel is one of the world’s most anticipated art events. It remains to be seen whether upcoming Art Basel shows like the June 18th-21st fair in Basel itself — or even the December 3rd-6th event in Miami — will still occur.
Regardless of how this year plays out as the coronavirus situation continues to evolve, it’ll be interesting to see how various industries (including art) adopt new technologies in response. For instance, Art Basel organizers are already planning to continue the new digital initiative for future events, but they’ll run parallel to the shows, rather than replacing the physical experience of an art fair.