Art Basel, the most important fair in the global contemporary art calendar, has been postponed from June to 23 to 26 September (previews 21-22 September) as ongoing disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic extends well into 2021.
"The decision was made after extensive discussions and analysis in consultation with gallerists and collectors, as well as external experts, putting foremost the health and safety of all concerned while aiming to achieve the broadest possible international attendance for the show," the organisers say in a statement released today.
"While the first phase of Covid-19 vaccination programs started in many parts of the world last month, 2021 is a year in which planning remains complex due to many uncertainties," Marc Spiegler, Art Basel's global director says. By moving the fair to September, Spiegler says, "we hope to offer our galleries greater possibility for successfully preparing their year. Following ten months of vaccination programs in many countries, we anticipate broad international participation in our Basel show in September, because all our conversations within the art world indicate a strong desire to see art in person and engage face-to-face with the global cultural scene. Naturally, we will continue our digital activities connecting Art Basel galleries with global patrons, as we prepare our return to staging physical fairs in the post-pandemic period."
In lieu of live fairs for now, Art Basel will stage three themed online viewing rooms this year, to which all galleries accepted to Art Basel's shows between 2016 and 2021 will be invited to apply. The first, OVR: Pioneers (24-27 March) will feature "artists who have broken new grounds aesthetically, conceptually, or socio-politically." The theme for the second, from 16 to 19 June, is yet to be confirmed. The third at the beginning of November, titled OVR:2021, will feature only works created this year.
Art Basel normally runs three fairs a year, in Hong Kong (March), Basel (June) and Miami Beach (December), but had to cancel all three events in 2020. This latest move does not bode well for 2021. Last year, the company postponed its flagship Swiss event from June to September before cancelling the fair altogether due to the pandemic. Art Basel in Hong Kong, normally held at the end of March and also cancelled in 2020, has already been pushed back to late May this year.
Meanwhile Tefaf Maastricht, also traditionally held in March in the Netherlands, has been postponed to late May/June—Art Basel's decision throws the likelihood of that fair happening into some doubt.