Art Basel Has Canceled the 2020 Edition of Its Flagship Swiss Fair, Citing ‘Tumultuous and Challenging Times’

The announcement comes after mounting pressure from dealers to make the call.

Crowds at Art Basel 2019. © Art Basel.
Crowds at Art Basel 2019. © Art Basel.

Amid a climate of continued global uncertainty around matters of health, the economy, and the basic ability to travel, Art Basel has canceled the upcoming edition of its flagship art fair in Basel. The premier international art fair had initially been postponed from its usual June slot to mid-September. The next edition of Art Basel in Switzerland is now scheduled to take place June 17 to June 20, 2021.

“We regret to announce that the 2020 edition of Art Basel in Basel has been canceled,” organizers of the fair stated on Twitter today, June 6. “These are tumultuous and challenging times, and we wish you the very best until we are able to meet again.”

This is the second major tent pole of the international art-market calendar that Art Basel has been forced to cancel this year, following the decision to call off Art Basel Hong Kong, the March event that has become the preeminent hub of Asia’s art industry. That cancellation was also due to the global health situation. Since then, Art Basel has instead offered virtual “online viewing room” fairs to provide its exhibitors with a needed platform to make sales, with the first taking place in March and the second taking place this month.

The decision to suspend the September fair in Basel came after “extensive consultation” with dealers and collectors, as well as its partners, according to a statement from Art Basel’s parent company, MCH Group. “The primary considerations were the fundamental health and safety risks for everyone involved, the financial risks for exhibitors and partners, the ongoing impediments to international travel, and the fact that the regulatory environment around large-scale events in Switzerland has yet to be finalized.”

The planning received a major blow when Swiss officials decided to delay making a decision about whether gatherings of 1,000 or more people would be permitted on May 29. A letter from concerned Berlin- and Stockholm-based Art Basel participant Claes Nordenhake asking that the fair be canceled in light of the “apocalyptic context” had been circulating among galleries, seeking signatures.

“Art Basel is the most important and powerful art fair in the world but even in the best possible scenario, an edition held this year would be a mere shadow of its established stature and imperil its reputation,” the letter said.

Nordenhake tells Artnet News that he is relieved. He commends the fair for their “courage” to make the call, adding that dealers and collectors will be looking forward to a strong 2021 edition.

The international design fair known as Design Miami Basel also decided not to hold the fair in Basel this September, organizers tell Artnet News. The fair is still planning to go ahead with Art Basel Miami Beach, which takes place in December in Florida.

“We fully understand the decision of Art Basel. However, Liste is a smaller fair and and therefore our situation is different,” says Joanna Kamm, director of Liste, a neighboring fair for emerging art dealers. She tells Artnet News that they are still discussing possible scenarios with participant galleries.

“The decisive factor is whether a scaled-down edition of Liste would really help our young galleries and artists in these extremely difficult and challenging times,” Kamm explained. “For this we need another week to announce our final decision.”

VOLTA has announced it will cancel its inaugural fair in September.

“We are aware that our galleries are facing unprecedented challenges and economic difficulties, and we had really hoped to support the art market’s recovery with a successful show in September,” Marc Spiegler, a member of MCH Group’s executive board and the global director Art Basel, said in an official statement.

A spokesperson for the fair tells Artnet News that participating galleries had not yet paid any fees to take part in the September edition.

“Unfortunately, the uncertainties that we face remain too high,” Spiegler said. “We will continue to develop our digital platforms and to offer fairs of the highest quality to support our galleries and the global art community in revitalizing the art market.”


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