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"Incredible response" as Art Basel goes hybrid in Hong Kong

After cancelling last year's show, the 2021 event upped the ante with daily broadcasts and virtual experiences streamed live from the HKCEC, and more than 50 satellite booths.

All tickets for the in-person event at HKCEC were sold out before the first day, while online engagement also proved successful.
All tickets for the in-person event at HKCEC were sold out before the first day, while online engagement also proved successful. Photo Credit:Art Basel Hong Kong 2021

Some six months after Hong Kong cancelled its annual art fair last year, Art Basel Hong Kong 2021 (ABHK) made a successful return this month, gathering 104 galleries from 23 countries and territories.

Held at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre (HKCEC), the three-day event (21-23 May) took on a hybrid format to cater to local residents and overseas buyers who couldn’t attend the event due to ongoing travel restrictions.

For galleries that opted to participate via satellite booths, these exhibitors could amplify their on-site presence via Online Viewing Rooms — first introduced in 2020 — while VIP walkthroughs, daily broadcasts and virtual experiences were live-streamed from the HKCEC.

P.P.O.W, a contemporary art gallery from New York was one such vendor. Co-founder, Wendy Olsoff said, "The help on the ground — from the install team to the VIP programme — made the effort feel seamless. If this can become a model for future opportunities, it would definitely help our carbon footprint."

Artists also found new ways to display various art mediums via ABHK's digital initiative, ‘Art Basel Hong Kong: Live’ which featured more than 50 satellite booths.

“ABHK marks our first hybrid fair, and ‘Art Basel Hong Kong: Live’ is a rich digital initiative designed to bring the excitement and vibrancy of the show to our audiences worldwide and is a key part of our long-term commitment to developing the fairs of the future," a spokesperson from Art Basel told M&C Asia.

Event safety

Stringent health and safety measures were put in place for the in-person experience. “All staff involved in the exhibition operation were required to present negative PCR test results for Covid-19 or valid vaccination records at each entry during show days,” said HKCEC managing director, Monica Lee-Mueller.

Further preventative measures included mask-wearing, no eating or drinking inside the hall, body temperature checks, use of Hong Kong's LeaveHomeSafe app or contact information record form, reduced capacities and wider aisles to maintain social distancing, timed entry to the shows, as well as regular cleaning and disinfection.

Groups were limited to a maximum of four people, among other safety measures at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre.
Groups were limited to a maximum of four people, among other safety measures at the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre. Photo Credit: Art Basel Hong Kong 2021

Event organisers took a step further by reducing capacity at any given time to approximately half of the current venue limit, compared to the regulation which is 75% of normal capacity. Groups were also limited to a maximum of four people at all times.

“Working staff, exhibitors and visitors were most cooperative and have strictly observed the above mentioned measures throughout the event,” Lee-Mueller said. “We are thrilled to witness how the participants enjoyed the venue experience with high standards of hygiene and safety.”

Hybrid or in-person?

All tickets for the in-person event at HKCEC were sold out before the first day, while online engagement also proved successful. The Art Basel spokesperson noted "high levels of engagement in our digital programmes, including our daily broadcasts and live-streamed VIP and public walkthroughs".

Galleries have chimed in with positive experiences.

"There is an electric atmosphere in Hong Kong as people embrace real life along with the global community tapping into the energy via the OVR. We’ve seen an incredible response to our presentation at Art Basel Hong Kong — 90% of our first day sales of works by our artists have been placed in truly superlative collections across the region which shows that the art market in Asia is on a high," said Iwan Wirth, president, Hauser & Wirth.

While the pandemic has forced all business to adapt to new models, Art Basel global director, Marc Spiegler, said he eagerly awaits the resumption of international travel.

"The past year has brought forth the art world's astonishing resilience and capacity for innovation and experimentation, and this year's edition of Art Basel Hong Kong is a real testament to that... We look forward to reuniting physically next year in Hong Kong."


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