Art Basel Hong Kong Pivots to Its Contingency Plan, Pushing the Fair to May as the Financial Hub Remains Cut Off From the World

The fair will now take place May 25 to 29, just before Art Basel's flagship Swiss edition in June.

Art Basel Hong Kong. Courtesy Art Basel.

Art Basel’s back-up plan for its Hong Kong fair has come into effect as announced today that it would postpone the event dates from March to May amid a new wave of Covid-19 infections, ongoing stringent social distancing measures, and travel restrictions.

The fair will now take place from May 25 to 29, just before Art Basel’s flagship Swiss edition in June. Art Basel had already secured the May slot with venue the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) as a contingency plan when it first announced its original show dates scheduled for March 24–26.

“Given the current government guidelines in Hong Kong, it has become clear that moving the fair to May is the right decision,” Adeline Ooi, Art Basel’s director in Asia, said in a statement. “We had anticipated this potential scenario in our planning process, and very much look forward to hosting gallerists, collectors, and art lovers at the HKCEC at that time.”

The Hong Kong fair returned in May last year after a hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic, but due to the city’s strict travel restrictions under its “zero-Covid” policy, it had few foreign visitors, and gallerists from abroad operated via the ghost booth arrangements or got themselves “beamed” into the fairground as hologram in a new technological experiment.

Still, the innovations seem to have paid off as the upcoming edition of Art Basel Hong Kong will feature 137 galleries from 28 countries and regions, a significant increase from last year’s 104 exhibitors. Sixteen of them are first-time exhibitors, including Galería Cayón from Madrid, Gallery Vazieux from Paris, Jason Haam from Seoul, Vin Gallery from Ho Chi Minh City, Galerie Forsblom from Helsinki, and Maia Contemporary from Mexico City. There will be 81 satellite booths, up from last year’s 55.

Some galleries told Artnet News they are prepared for the postponement, “as long as the fair is not canceled.” Arman Lam, director of Hong Kong’s Hanart TZ Gallery, said works to be presented at Art Basel were mostly completed last year but certain works will only be shipped over from abroad after the Lunar New Year holidays, which begins on Tuesday, February 1. The postponement has given galleries and artists bonus time to prepare, he said.

Hong Kong has seen a new outbreak of Covid-19 in recent weeks as both the Delta and Omicron variants are spreading. Authorities have placed certain buildings into severe lockdown, barring citizens from leaving their homes for five days. Social distancing measures have been extended until February 17, and officials have banned dining in at restaurants after 6 p.m., large scale events, and flights from eight countries including the U.S., U.K., and France.

Mandatory hotel quarantine for inbound travelers, however, have been shortened from 21 to 14 days, but self-monitoring at home are still required for a further seven days afterwards.

The rule change came after an outcry from foreign businesses as many expats are reportedly leaving Hong Kong, due to strict Covid restrictions. The European Chamber of Commerce in the city has warned in a draft report that the zero-Covid policy could keep the Asian financial hub isolated until 2024, though Beijing has dismissed the caution as a smear campaign orchestrated by foreign media.

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