The art market can be a cut-throat place to do business, but a “spirit of collegiality” prevailed among dealers who exhibited at Art Basel this year, with almost two-thirds opting out of the Swiss art fair’s CHF1.5m ($1.6m) “solidarity fund”, according to a letter sent to exhibitors today.
For the 97 out of 272 galleries who decided to take part in the fund, booth costs have been slashed by 35%.
Having already given dealers a 10% discount across all sectors of the fair, Art Basel announced the fund just two weeks before it opened in September in a bid to further offset the risks in taking part in an event where international attendance was expected to be curtailed and sales negatively impacted. It also pledged to foot the bill for any hotel quarantine, which has not been taken up by any galleries.
Art Basel is not releasing the names of those who opted out of the solidarity fund, but the fair’s global director Marc Spiegler tells The Art Newspaper: “Generally speaking, the largest, most established galleries—and not just the mega-galleries—forewent participation.”
What is more, Spiegler notes, because of the high number of refusals, some of the larger galleries who had initially expressed they would take the fund, “thinking they were going to get $10,000 to $15,000 back were suddenly seeing a potential refund of three times that amount”. As a result, a large proportion decided to only take half of what was available to them, despite sales being lower than in previous years.
While sales were robust enough for some to refuse all, or part, of the fund, Spiegler recounts one conversation with a dealer from London during the final hours of the fair who had told him it had been a difficult edition, with few of their regular clients showing up. “I told the gallerist that we knew it had been a rough year and that was what the fund was for,” Spiegler says. “And they said, ‘I’ve done very well in my career. So no matter what happens, I would rather leave that money to my younger or less fortunate colleagues’.”
The solidarity fund remains a one-off initiative, implemented in “extraordinary circumstances”, Spiegler says, though Art Basel continues to apply its sliding scale to booth fees in Basel, Miami and Hong Kong, which—in a similar vein to the fund—sees galleries with larger stands pay more per square metre than their smaller and less well-off colleagues. The fair did not raise booth prices in 2021, keeping them the same as in 2020: CHF780 per sq.m for the smaller galleries and CHF950 per sq.m for the larger galleries.