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Art Basel Hong Kong Held Physically And Virtually Amidst Protests and Pandemic Restrictions

Header Image: Courtesy of Art Basel

This past weekend, on May 19-23, 2021, there was another sign that the world was starting to return to its pre-pandemic stage. As the world starts to slowly open up, Art Basel launched the Hong Kong edition of their art fair. In a scaled-down venue, this was the first Art Basel in Hong Kong since 2019.

As a result of the COVID-19 restriction, the ninth Art Basel Hong Kong combined a virtual fair with the traditional one. In Hong Kong, the fair returned to Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) with 104 leading galleries from 23 countries and territories. In conjunction, Art Basel launched their new digital initiative “Art Basel Live: Hong Kong”. The initiative seeks to amplify the international visibility of its exhibitors by connecting galleries digitally with a global audience. The program includes an online viewing room, live broadcasts, and a walkthrough of HKCEC.

Grotto Fine Art. Photo courtesy of Art Basel.

To address the inability of some gallery representation to travel. Art Basel has set up satellite booths in the fair. These satellite booths allow exhibitors to curate a small space staffed by a local representative from Art Basel.

In addition to the ongoing pandemic, the fair also had to contend with a new national security law imposed by China in response to the protests happening in Hong Kong. Some critics, including artist Ai Weiwei, criticized the law for stifling freedom of speech. In protest, activists installed miniature statues around the fair titled There’s No Art Without Freedom. Standing at 4.5 cm, the figures are miniaturized versions of a four-meter statue of Lady Liberty, a figure wearing a gas mask, goggles, a helmet, and an umbrella, holding one fist up in protest.

Photo courtesy of Lady Liberty HK

Despite the pandemic and protests, the fair resulted in many sales. A painting by Joan Mitchell, 12 Hawks at 3 O'Clock (circa 1962), was sold for nearly US$20 million. David Kordansky Gallery presented a solo booth of pieces by Pakistani-American artist Huma Bhabha, which was sold out on the first day. Her sculptures sold for US$100,000-200,000 while her works on paper sold for US$20,000-40,000. 


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