With Travel Restrictions Still in Effect, More Than Half of Art Basel Hong Kong’s Dealers Are Presenting Unmanned ‘Ghost Booths’

More than half of exhibitors will be represented by local surrogates.

Guests seen during the Art Basel Hong Kong at the convention and exhibition center in 2021. Photo by Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

For the second year, travel restrictions are making it difficult for gallery personnel to make the trip to Art Basel Hong Kong—so many are sending the art on its own, to appear in we’ve dubbed the ghost booth.

The fair boasts a total of 137 galleries, but more than half of them (75, to be exact) have opted for the ghost booth approach. That’s up from 57 at last year’s edition.

Stepping in for the absent gallery staff will be local workers who are physically present at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center and able to connect collectors and other fair goers to overseas dealers.

“It’s not people’s preferred way to buy or sell art, but it’s proved effective,” Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s global director, told the New York Times.

Alec Egan, <em>Fruit Bowl With Bird</em> (2021). Photo by Matthew Kroening, courtesy of the artist and Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles.

Alec Egan, Fruit Bowl With Bird (2021). Photo by Matthew Kroening, courtesy of the artist and Anat Ebgi, Los Angeles.

Los Angeles dealer Anat Ebgi is presenting a ghost booth for the second time, with work by Los Angeles figurative painter Alec Egan. Chambers Fine Art, New York City and Salt Point, New York, is presenting oil paintings by Beijing artist Guo Hongwei at a shared booth with Anna Ning Fine Art of Hong Kong.

In 2020, Art Basel Hong Kong was the first domino to fall in the annual art world calendar, pulling the plug on the event in early February due to the coronavirus. It returned in 2021 with just 30 dealers from outside East Asia, and 104 exhibitors in total. (The 2022 dealer count is still down from the 2019 high-water mark of 242.) Last year’s fair saw a larger percentage of local visitors, many of whom were reportedly first-time collectors.

In light of the continued difficulty of attending in person, the fair has beefed up its online presence, with nine live walkthroughs of the show floor as well as the return of the OVR, or online viewing room, which became a lifeline for fairs and galleries during the height of lockdown.

Marc Spiegler, global director of Art Basel. Photograph courtesy of Art Basel.

Marc Spiegler, global director of Art Basel. Photograph courtesy of Art Basel.

Other major art fairs, such as Frieze in New York, Los Angeles, and London, and Art Basel’s Miami Beach and Basel editions, have managed to resume in-person operations regardless of dealers’ countries of origin. But strict rules for entering Hong Kong under China’s Covid Zero policy currently include a seven-day quarantine at a hotel—down from what was once a mandatory three-week stay—making attending the fair a time-consuming and expensive proposition.

In fact, Spiegler himself opted to skip the trip this year, although Adeline Ooi, Art Basel’s director for Asia, went through quarantine after returning from travel overseas ahead of the opening.

The fair itself was also rescheduled to May from late March due to the Omicron variant, leaving only a few weeks before the close of Art Basel Hong Kong and the VIP opening of the Basel edition on June 13.

Art Basel Hong Kong is on view at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, 1 Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, China, May 25–May 29, 2022. 

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics