Art fairs

Will Art Basel actually happen in September? A letter to exhibitors suggests potential for more delays

Fair extends deadline to confirm participation until 1 June, but concedes "there are simply too many open questions" to know if the fair will happen at the moment

Art Basel last year: such scenes of crowded fairs now seem like another era © Art Basel

Art Basel has extended the deadline for exhibitors to confirm participation in its September fair until 1 June as the indefinite extension of the coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown continues to wreak havoc across the global events calendar.

Galleries had been expected to commit this week, by 1 May, to the event which was postponed last month from June until 17-20 September. But in a letter sent to exhibitors today, Art Basel’s three directors—Marc Spiegler (global director), Noah Horowitz (director Americas) and Adeline Ooi (director Asia)—acknowledge “that date [1 May] is too early—for us and for our galleries—to make a decision about how to proceed.” By 1 June, they hope, there will be “more clarity for all involved.”

With unusual candour for the Swiss fair conglomerate, the letter continues: “At the moment, there are simply too many open questions. When, and under what regulatory conditions, will fairs such as ours be able to take place? When will borders reopen? At what point will flights, now vastly diminished, be adequately restored? Alongside these logistical matters come fundamental health and safety concerns–from new infection rates to the availability of widespread antibody testing, let alone vaccines. Finally, when will there be significant confidence among collectors, museum professionals, and other members of the art world when it comes to traveling and congregating?”

The letter also announces that, throughout 2020, “if Art Basel are forced to cancel a fair due to the Covid-19 crisis, whether in Basel or in Miami Beach, they will fully refund any fees already paid by exhibitors.” Furthermore, 25% of fees kept by Art Basel following the cancellation of the Hong Kong fair in March will be rolled over as credit into next year's stand fees, either in Hong Kong, Basel or Miami Beach. The second online viewing room will run in June regardless, free of charge for participating (or would-be participating) galleries. Also, the letter says, Art Basel is looking at how it can reduce exhibitors’ costs when fairs can run again.

Although some shops are starting to reopen in Switzerland this week, with galleries hoping to open their doors soon, the situation regarding large-scale events in the country remains unclear. The Art Basel directors write in their letter: “Based on our personal conversations with the highest-level federal officials, that information should come in the near future. Yet even such a declared schedule will remain entirely dependent on successful results from the first phases of relaxed anti-Covid-19 measures.”

For now, it seems, no-one knows what the autumn will hold.