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$270 million art fair moves online amid virus outbreak

Online viewing room
A screenshot from one of Art Basel's online viewing rooms (Image credit: Art Basel)

As countless public spaces continue to close in the wake of coronavirus, art galleries across the world have shut their doors – including the Tate galleries, V&A and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Amid the closures, Art Basel is now offering online viewing rooms to replace its cancelled Hong Kong fair, open to VIPs from today and to the public from Friday.

More than 230 dealers who planned to bring work to Hong Kong will instead offer over 2,000 pieces through the virtual fair – with an estimated value of $270 million. A price (or price range) will accompany each work, and sales inquiries made through an online form, with a response guaranteed within 24 hours.

Art gallery

Art Basel Hong Kong's 2019 fair (Image credit: Art Basel Hong Kong)

Online art galleries are nothing new (take a look at our list of the best online art galleries for on-the-go inspiration), but this is the first time a fair of such value has switched from the physical to the virtual realm. 

“If galleries are closed, how can we sell art?" participating dealer David Zwirner says to the New York Times. "The online platform is something we have envisioned as an important part of what we do. In a funny way, the art world is late to the party if you think about other retail experiences.”

Fortunately for Art Basel, the fair had already been exploring online viewing rooms as part of the experience before coronavirus forced them to close. According to Art Basel's global director Marc Spiegler, "the infrastructure was in place".

While the move online is completely understandable in this case, we hope virtual art fairs don't end up replacing the real thing. “While nothing can replace the experience of seeing art in person,” said Adeline Ooi, Art Basel’s director Asia, “we hope that this initiative can bring some support and visibility to all the galleries and their artists affected by the cancellation of our March show.”

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