My reflections on art, collectors, marchers and contemporary art auctions
What will become of Art Basel?
With the cancellation of Art Basel, the fair is already giving up its second major event this year - and the appearance in Miami Beach is far from set. What this means for the most important art fair in the world
Art Basel is certainly not the last fair to bow to the restrictions of the current pandemic. Whoever had their performance this year after the Maastricht Tefaf, which had to close five days earlier than planned in March due to Corona, could only postpone it . Even in the early days of Covid-19, Art Basel, Europe's most important platform for modern art into the 21st century, was hit hard. Its major Asian spin-off should take place in the second half of March. Then Hong Kong was canceled without replacement and, after some hesitation, the traditional Basel mother fair was postponed to autumn.
But now this date is also obsolete. Art Basel is also not taking place, and the third date in the Swiss trade fair calendar, Miami Beach in early December, is anything but set. Even if the trade fair management has not yet commented: Nobody knows how entry and exit between countries and states will work in a few months. Such uncertainties will keep many gallery owners from taking the risks associated with an expensive trade fair appearance.
Three rejections as a worst-case scenario
In the worst case, Art Basel has to cope with three cancellations. Not one like the Paris Photo or two, as expected by the organizers of Frieze in London and New York. The entire apparatus around Art Basel director Mac Spiegler idles for a year. Online viewing rooms, such as those set up for Hong Kong at short notice, cannot even come close to compensating for the financial shortfalls. A hundred important employees are named on the Art Basel website alone – from the directors to the management board to the countless communicators. A total of 227 names are linked to the trade fair as an employer in the LinkedIn online network. Figures that make it clear what income Spiegler has to book every year with the three trade fairs in order to be successful.
Share values of the MCH Group fall
Failures would actually be an issue for the MCH Group. The Swiss trade fair company has long been considered a powerful organizer of various events, including Art Basel and Baselworld, the address for the largest and finest watch manufacturers. Until they felt abused as cash cows in view of the stand rents in the exhibition halls and the exorbitant Basel restaurant and hotel costs and some withdrew their trust in the exhibition in 2019. The scramble to assume the costs after cancellation due to Corona caused Baselworld to implode. A development that can also be seen in the shares of the MCH Group: in recent years their value has fallen from 80 francs to less than a quarter of the original value.
So the Art Basel crisis is joined by a second one at the Basel trade fair company. Financial aid is not in sight; on the contrary, the art fair itself has generated important sales for the MCH Group in recent years. If Miami is also canceled in December, 2020 will be a lost year for both of them. And what comes in 2021 is also not yet clear.
Is Art Basel Hong Kong coming to an end?
The fact that Basel seven years ago chose Hong Kong as a strong art trading center in Asia had to do not least with the unique political situation. However, it is not foreseeable how the former crown colony will develop if China's leadership softens the status of the special administrative zone long before 2047, by installing its new "security law", among other things. But it is true that the privileges in this internationally networked financial center will soon no longer exist. Mainland China stands for censorship, the international clientele will no longer be able to enter the country without any problems; neither do the galleries. So maybe 2019 saw the last edition of Art Basel in Hong Kong? If that were the case, the world's most successful trade fair would erode at an almost uncanny pace after half a century of eternal success.