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  • Sep 24, 2020

Second Wave of Covid-19 Leaves European Art Fairs Weary

General overview of Vienna Contemporary in 2019. Image via Facebook.

A fresh spike of Covid-19 cases in Europe is prompting many art fairs across the continent to adopt online alternatives, although some organizers are braving the conditions of a global pandemic to forge ahead with in-person events.

Vienna Contemporary, Austria’s largest art fair, opens its VIP preview as scheduled today, running until September 27 at Marx Halle, despite Vienna confirming 4,390 active cases since September 20 and with travel restrictions still in placeWhile booth fees were reduced by 50 percent according to Artnet News, only 65 galleries from 16 countries are participating this year, a decline from the total of 110 exhibitors in 2019. The fair has adopted safety measures including mandatory mask-wearing and three-hour time slots for visitors. The fair also launched a digital platform, vc_on, on September 18, providing access to online viewing rooms of artworks for sale and additional content such as panel discussions.      

Turin’s Artissima also plans to stage a hybrid fair with physical and online programs, hosting 125 galleries from November 6–8 at Oval Lingotto. Its online platform Artissima XYZ, running from November 3 to December 9, will offer digital access to 30 galleries from the in-person fair’s curated sections, Present Future, Back to the Future, and Disegni. The Piedmont region has reported 95 new cases in the last 24 hours. 

Elsewhere, other fairs have turned to digital iterations. Art Basel in Basel relied on its Online Viewing Rooms (OVR) in June for its 2020 event with 282 galleries. The fair is now hosting two more thematic online editions, with OVR:2020 on view until September 26, dedicated to works made during this year, and OVR:20c featuring works created in the 20th century, going live from October 28–31. Similarly, Basel’s Liste Art Fair featured 72 galleries on its viewing platform, Liste Showtime, from September 14–20. Back in July, Frieze London and Frieze Masters canceled the October fairs planned for Regent's Park. Instead, Frieze will host more than 250 galleries on the second edition of Frieze Viewing Room, from October 9–16. 

Meanwhile, Paris’s FIAC received backlash from a cohort of French galleries when on September 15 it canceled its 2020 edition, scheduled for October 22–25 at the Grand Palais. Even though exhibitors will be reimbursed in full, many were disappointed that the announcement came so close to the event date, especially when gallery sales have significantly decreased, according to a report in Artforum. Other dealers were more supportive, with close to 40 galleries signing an open letter to defend FIAC’s decision, including Almine Rech, Chantal Crousel, and Jocelyn Wolff, as reported by Artnet News. Based on Agence régionale de Santé, Paris has reported 322 Covid-19 related hospitalizations in the past 24 hours. 

Ariana Heffner is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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