The Art Basel Hong Kong show is not taking place this year, but there is still a treat in store for art enthusiasts: in the “Art Basel Online Viewing Rooms”, which are being used for the first time, over 230 leading galleries from 31 countries will be presenting more than 2,000 works of art in a digital space. The preview starts as soon as 18 March and the Online Viewing Rooms will be open to everyone from 20 to 25 March 2020. The Global Director of Art Basel, Marc Spiegler, explains how this innovation came about and what significance the Online Viewing Rooms will have in the future.
Marc Spiegler, what exactly do you mean when you talk about the “Art Basel Online Viewing Rooms”?
Art Basel’s Online Viewing Rooms offer exhibitors an additional platform for presenting their works of art to Art Basel’s worldwide network as well as to new collectors and buyers. They do not replace the physical experience of an art show, but enable gallery owners from all over the world to showcase an additional selection of curated works that are not presented at shows. This would normally be a kind of digital parallel event during Art Basel.
In view of current circumstances and the cancellation of Art Basel Hong Kong, we have adapted the concept so that exhibitors can present works that would have been intended for the cancelled show. We invited all galleries that would have participated in the 2020 Hong Kong exhibition to participate in the first edition of this scheme free of charge. The Online Viewing Rooms are searchable by gallery, artist, medium and price and allow collectors to contact the gallery directly with purchase requests. As with physical shows, we start with an exclusive preview, which is only accessible to holders of a VIP card, followed by several days during which the exhibition spaces are open to the public.
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Are the Online Viewing Rooms only being activated because of the current coronavirus pandemic, or was this innovation planned a long time in advance?
The Online Viewing Rooms are part of our long-term planning. We are constantly exploring new technologies and possibilities for digital support for our existing events and platforms. We have been working on the idea for a long time now and the technical implementation has been under way for about six months – the start is now being brought forward to offer the Art Basel Hong Kong exhibitors an alternative option. But in future, the Online Viewing Rooms will be accessible during all Art Basel shows. This will enable us to combine digitalisation and physical events in an ideal way.
How can a topic as emotional and physical as art be experienced digitally?
Digitalisation is causing radical changes in the art world and making art more accessible than ever before. We have been using our online channels to promote our shows, our galleries and their artists for a long time already, and to share information about what is on display at the shows. Our online catalogue and the Global Guide, which supports galleries by steering visitors and collectors towards Art Basel’s galleries all year round, are also nothing new. None of these measures have had a negative impact on our exhibitions. On the contrary, they have helped to raise awareness of the galleries amongst collectors.
At the same time, we believe that digital platforms are no substitute for the experience of seeing art in person or visiting the shows themselves. Collectors do not just come to shows to buy works of art, just as gallery owners do not just participate in them to sell the works being exhibited. Both collectors and gallery owners visit our shows to share ideas, deepen existing relationships and develop new contacts and projects. In a market based on trust, personal interaction remains crucial.
Which works are included in the Online Viewing Rooms?
Collectors can look forward to accessing over 2,000 pieces of art ranging from modernism to post-war and contemporary styles, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, installations, photographs, videos and digital works. We are very pleased that around 90% of the exhibitors from the cancelled Art Basel Hong Kong show are taking part in the Online Viewing Rooms. All works are priced either at an exact price or within a price range. The total value of the works presented in the Online Viewing Rooms will be around USD 270 million.