Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 shrinks by half and will present new hybrid format

A total of 104 galleries are participating this year, down from 242 in 2019

Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 will be a hybrid event. Courtesy of Lawrie Shabibi 
Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 will be a hybrid event. Courtesy of Lawrie Shabibi 

This May, Art Basel Hong Kong is scheduled to return to an in-person fair for the first time since the pandemic began. The event will run from May 19 to 23.

One of the starkest differences between the pre-pandemic iterations and the 2021 version is the number of participating galleries. This year, Art Basel Hong Kong will host 104 galleries from 23 countries, down from 242 in 2019 – a decrease of more than half. It is a sacrifice that fairs such as Art Dubai, which was among the first to stage an in-person event earlier in April, have also made amid Covid-19 regulations.

The mega art fair was among the first to be cancelled when the pandemic broke out in March 2020, with organisers putting together an online viewing room as a replacement. This year, Art Basel Hong Kong will introduce a hybrid format wherein galleries will present their booths in physical and digital mediums throughout the event.

From the 104 galleries taking part, 56 will be hosting what Art Basel calls “satellite booths”, also known as “ghost booths”, where the booths are staffed with locals by the organisers. Art Dubai did the same for a number of booths this year, and visitors could connect with the galleries via video call or scanning a QR code that leads to an online landing page.

In addition, the fair is permitting galleries to share so-called “collective booths”, which names such as Silverlens, Rossi & Rossi, Galleria Continua and Massimo De Carlo will make use of.

As part of the hybrid format, the fair will include an online viewing, virtual walkthroughs for VIP guests and even a live broadcast of the event titled Art Basel Live: Hong Kong.

The return of a physical Art Basel Hong Kong also takes place at a precarious time in its history. Protests that began in March 2019 marked the beginning of a shift in Hong Kong’s politics, leading to the implementation of a national security law in May 2020 that prohibits activities seen as related to “secession, foreign interference, terrorism and subversion against the central government”.

At the same time, Hong Kong’s quarantine rules for travellers can be quite rigorous, with mandatory hotel stays for certain countries of 21 days. Recently, the government has reduced that time to 14 days for those coming from low-risk areas, including Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Such rules may change in the coming months as Hong Kong begins to open up.

Updated: April 12, 2021 11:19 AM

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