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  • Mar 20, 2020

No Go Season for Art Fairs

*Last updated Monday March 23, 2020.

Installation view of Frieze New York 2019. Photo by

Hotbeds of commerce and industry networking in a good year; viral hotspots of handshaking, chatting, and cheek-to-cheek contact in 2020—art fairs have gone from coveted destinations to no-go zones since the Covid-19 pandemic escalated in late January. The latest news that more art fairs have postponed their 2020 editions, then, comes as no surprise. 

The Melbourne Art Foundation announced on March 17 that it has pushed back its biennial Melbourne Art Fair from mid-June 2020 to February 4–7, 2021. The fair will be held at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre with around 40 galleries. 

On the following day, Loring Randolph, director of Frieze New York sent an email stating that organizers have decided to cancel its 2020 edition, originally set to open on May 6 with around 200 galleries, “following advice and restrictions from local, national, international and health authorities.” The Frieze Sculpture project at Rockefeller Center will take place during the summer, rather than in May. 

The Melbourne Art Fair and Frieze New York join the ranks of several other recently postponed events. The usual mid-April opening of the Dallas Art Fair has been delayed until October 1–4. Art Cologne, slated for April 23–26, will take place instead between November 19–22. Art Brussels re-scheduled its dates from April 23–26to June 25–28. São Paulo’s SP-Arte, which was planned to commence on April 1, has been suspended, although organizers have not yet confirmed if the fair will occur later in the year. 

The one major art fair that did not cancel, TEFAF Maastricht, closed four days ahead of its schedule on March 11 after an Italian gallerist, reportedly from Tornabuoni Art gallery (London / Paris / Milan / Florence / Forte Dei Marmi / Crans Montana), tested positive for Covid-19 after working at the fair for three days. Two galleries from the United States and one from France withdrew before TEFAF opened, while some US museums prohibited curators from traveling to the fair. 

On March 20, TEFAF Spring, in New York, announced it will push back its dates from early May until October 31–November 4.

The art world is now awaiting a decision about Art Basel in Basel (June 18–22), still the contemporary art world’s biggest event of the year. In a statement on March 13 to ArtNews, Art Basel said it was exploring dates later in the year for its 50th anniversary edition. 

The MCH Group, Art Basel’s parent company, already called off its biggest convention of the year, the Baselworld Watch and Jewelry Show (April 30–May 5), in late February, following the Swiss government’s ban on gatherings exceeding 1,000 people. Also in February, Art Basel Hong Kong announced that its event would not continue as usual during mid-March and instead will offer exhibitors online viewing rooms, which open to the public today. 

A decision about the Liste Art Fair Basel (June 15–21), along with Art Basel in Basel, is still forthcoming. But given the US imposed travel restrictions against Europeans until late April, the increasing number of countries that have closed their national borders and have warned their citizens against travelling. European countries have failed to contain Covid-19 despite weeks of advance notice, as Italy surpasses China in the total number of deaths to date and confirmed cases rocket upward across the continent. 

HG Masters is the deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

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