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Art Basel Hong Kong, 2019. Photo: Art Basel Hong Kong.

Art Basel Hong Kong Cancels 2020 Edition as China Struggles to Contain Coronavirus

Art Basel has canceled the upcoming edition of its Hong Kong fair, citing the severity of the outbreak and the spread of the coronavirus—the number of people infected and the rate at which the pneumonia-like illness is being transmitted led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a global public health emergency last week. In a statement issued on Thursday, February 6, organizers said that several factors contributed to its decision not to continue with the event—including “logistical challenges” and the “escalating difficulties complicating international travel”—but the primary reason was its concern for the health and safety of everyone who would be working at and attending the fair. 

As Art Basel and the MCH Group, which owns the fair, made the announcement, the New York Times reported the death of doctor Li Wenliang, who was one of the first to try and warn officials about the alarming number of people who were infected with an illness resembling SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which killed hundreds of people in China nearly twenty years ago. Since cases of the coronavirus were first confirmed in Wuhan, China, on December 31, 565 people in the country have died, and more than 28,200 have contracted the virus. As of Wednesday, eighteen cases have been reported in Hong Kong, and twelve have been confirmed in the United States. The coronavirus has also reached Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, Canada, France, and Germany, as well as at least a dozen other countries.

“Our thoughts are with those affected by the recent coronavirus outbreak around the world,” said Marc Spiegler, the global director of Art Basel. “The decision to cancel Art Basel Hong Kong was an extremely difficult one for us. We explored every other possible option before doing so, gathering advice and perspectives from many gallerists, collectors, partners and external experts. We are acutely aware of the important role that the fair plays within the region’s cultural scene and for our galleries, both in Asia and across the globe. Our team dedicated extensive time and effort to ensure our show in March would be a success over the course of the past year. Unfortunately, the sudden outbreak and rapid spread of the novel coronavirus radically changed the situation.” 

Adeline Ooi, Art Basel’s director of Asia, added: “We are deeply grateful to our exhibitors, partners, and friends all over the world, and especially in Hong Kong, who have stood by our side, lent their support, and shared insights and opinions over the past days and months. Our commitment to Asia and Hong Kong has not changed, and we look forward to the 2021 edition.” 

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