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Art Basel Hong Kong, 2015.
Art Basel Hong Kong, 2015.

Galleries Voice Concern over Art Basel Hong Kong, Demand Concessions from Fair Organizers

After months of unrest in Hong Kong, which has been the epicenter of massive pro-democracy protests, twenty-four high-profile galleries participating in Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK)—including 303 Gallery, Gavin Brown, Greene Naftali, Lévy Gorvy, Matthew Marks, Metro Pictures, and Paula Cooper—have penned a letter expressing concern and making concessional demands from fair organizers.

Dated January 16 and addressed to Art Basel global director Marc Spiegler and the fair’s Asia director, Adeline Ooi, the letter requests the right to reduce booth sizes without penalty, an extension of the payment deadline to late February, access to reasonable insurance coverage, and a 50 percent discount on booth fees.

“Many people who normally attend the fair have indicated that they will not attend this year,” reads the letter, which was obtained by Artnet News, and “many of our artists are unwilling to have their work shown at the fair.” The signatories claim their artists’ reluctance to participate is a result of China’s response to and censorship of the ongoing protests, which are not “consistent with their core belief in the freedom of expression.”

Following the appeal, Spiegler and Ooi agreed to extend late order fees from January 7 to January 31, and will offer galleries the option to reduce booth sizes and robust insurance coverage through their brokers, Expat Marine Limited, and the insurance company Circle Asia Ltd.

However, ABHK declined to reduce the booth fees by 50 percent, claiming that the request was “financially untenable” since measures that have already been taken to offset the cost of the fair have had “significant financial impact for Art Basel”—the fair announced in December that it was lowering the withdrawal fee to 75 percent of the cost for booths. It also pledged to refund at least 75 percent of the booth fee if organizers are forced to cancel the fair for any reason.

In a response sent to the galleries who signed the document on January 18, ABHK wrote: “At the moment, the protest situation in Hong Kong is calmer than in the fall, although of course no one can accurately predict how this will develop. At the same time, we fully acknowledge that this year is not business as usual, and we are thus doing everything we can to support all the galleries coming to Hong Kong.” They also claimed that VIP registration numbers have not dropped, and that there has actually been an increase in registrants from mainland China.

The full list of signatories is as follows: 303 Gallery, Miguel Abreu Gallery, Alfonso Artiaco, Blum & Poe, Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Gavin Brown’s enterprise, Paula Cooper Gallery, Pilar Corrias, Galerie Chantal Crousel, Thomas Dane Gallery, Fortes D’Aloia & Gabriel, François Ghebaly, Greene Naftali, Herald St, Lévy Gorvy, Lisson Gallery, Matthew Marks Gallery, Fergus McCaffrey, kamel mennour, Metro Pictures, OMR, Nara Roesler, Lia Rumma, and Sprüth Magers.

So far, three galleries have withdrawn from the fair, which is slated to run from March 19 to March 21, 2020: Luxembourg & Dayan, New York and London; Tyler Rollins Fine Art, New York; and SCAI the Bathhouse, Tokyo.