Art Basel postponed as Switzerland closes borders

One of the art world’s biggest events, Art Basel, has been postponed as the coronavirus pandemic continues to grip Europe, it was announced the four-day event will now be held in September.

The Swiss art fair, which last year attracted almost 93,000 visitors from around the world, was due to take place in June. But following the announcement of tightened travel restrictions across Europe, organizers said in a press release that the decision to postpone was reached “in close consultation with a wide range of gallerists, collectors, partners, and external experts, with the goal of both protecting the health and safety of our community, and ensuring that the fair will be attended by the largest possible number of collectors, curators, and arts professionals from our global network.”

Now in its 51st year, Art Basel is a key date in the cultural calendar, offering over 250 galleries an opportunity to court collectors in an industry still heavily dependent on in-person sales. Organizers have not yet announced details about refunds or compensation for exhibiting galleries and ticket holders.

In a statement, Global Director of Art Basel Marc Spiegler said: ‘We thank our galleries for the support and understanding of our highly complex decision to postpone the fair. We hope that the situation improves swiftly, and we will work closely with our exhibitors to deliver a successful fair in September.”

Visitors arrive at Art Basel 2019

Visitors arrive at Art Basel 2019 Credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

He further suggested that there was a possibility the new fair dates, currently set for September 17-20, might change. “At the same time, we are aware of how dynamic the Covid-19 situation is and will continue to monitor the developments closely… we will adapt all our planning to the developing situation,” he said.

At present, the Swiss government’s ban on public and private events only runs until April 19. But while Art Basel was not set to begin until June 18, the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the country, which borders northern Italy, continues to grow. Switzerland has thus far reported over 10,000 infections — more than both the UK and South Korea — and 153 deaths as a result of the virus.

Although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, and is therefore excluded from the temporary closure of the bloc’s borders, the country has moved to restrict non-essential travel. On Wednesday, the government announced that only Swiss residents and citizens — and those of neighboring Liechtenstein — or people traveling for work-related or emergency reasons, will be permitted to enter.

Art Basel exhibition hall designed architects Herzog & de Meuron

Art Basel exhibition hall designed architects Herzog & de Meuron Credit: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images

Art Basel joins a growing list of major art fairs to be canceled or postponed, from Photo London and Frieze New York to Jingart in Beijing. The economic impact of these cancellations is likely to be significant, with fairs responsible for over $16 billion in transactions — or 45% of sales made by art dealers worldwide — in 2019, according to a joint report by Art Basel and the investment bank UBS.

The Swiss fair had already pulled the plug on its Hong Kong edition, which would have taken place last week. Organizers instead arranged digital “viewing rooms,” which allowed potential buyers to browse and buy artworks via online. The initiative saw 235 galleries exhibit more than 2,000 artworks, as well as some hosting virtual tours. Art Basel said that 250,000 people “visited” the viewing rooms, though sales figures have not yet been disclosed

Art Basel’s Miami Beach edition is still scheduled to go ahead in December.

Art Basel had not yet responded to CNN’s request for comment.

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