Art Basel in Hong Kong exhibitors call for 50% discount as concerns mount over a drop off in collectors and freedom of expression

Galleries participating in Art Basel in Hong Kong this year are concerned that collectors will not show up as protests continue to grip the city © Art Basel

Twenty-four top level galleries including Lévy Gorvy, Lisson and Paula Cooper have written a letter to the organisers of Art Basel in Hong Kong expressing concerns over a drop off in the number of collectors and patrons attending the fair this year, as well as threats to freedom of expression due to increased Chinese control in the semi-autonomous region.

In the letter, first reported on Artnet news, and sent on 16 January to Marc Spiegler, the global director of Art Basel, and Adeline Ooi, the director of Art Basel in Hong Kong, the galleries say 2020 “is not a good year to hold this fair”. The event comes amid continued pro-democracy protests, which have seen millions join demonstrations over the past seven months.

The dealers say that “many people who normally attend the fair have indicated that they will not attend this year”. However, responding via letter on 18 January, Spiegler and Ooi point out that “VIP registration numbers are consistent overall with previous years—and especially strong from the Asian region, where we have actually seen an increase in VIP registration from mainland China”.

Exhibitors say they are also uneasy about Beijings chipping away at freedom of speech and political rights in Hong Kong. “Many of our artists are unwilling to have their work shown at the fair,” exhibitors say, because increasing Chinese control is not “consistent with their core belief in the freedom of expression”. Some dealers say they will dial down their booths this year, while others are tackling the situation head on by bringing overtly political works.

The 24 galleries are also calling for a number of concessions, including a 50% reduction on booth fees, the option to reduce booth sizes without penalty and an extension on the payment deadline until late February. They are also requesting access to reasonable insurance coverage; fair organisers have previously said they are working with a local insurance broker to offer cover—at 20 times the normal rate.

In their letter, Spiegler and Ooi note that: “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.”

Addressing the insurance question, they recognise that “the situation is more complex than in previous years”, but say their brokers, Expat Marine Limited and the insurers Circle Asia Ltd (on behalf of a syndicate at Lloyds of London), “are regularly reviewing the situation in Hong Kong” and have secured “the optimal insurance currently available”.

The fair organisers also responded by noting that 15% of exhibitors have already taken them up on their offer to reduce their booth size, including nine of the letters siRead More – Source