Museums, galleries, and other art-related events across the world are closing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, yet one institution has devised a clever strategy for continuing its operations with relatively little interruption. Rather than canceling Art Basel Hong Kong 2020 outright, the international art fair has launched Online Viewing Rooms, their very first virtual viewing experience that features over 2,000 artworks collectively valued at over $270 million that would have been on display in the physical setting. “Welcome to Online Viewing Rooms,” the website reads, “our digital platform connecting the world’s premier galleries with collectors around the world. Log in now with your Art Basel account and discover a wide array of curated rooms featuring thousands of high-caliber artworks.”
The Online Viewing Rooms are currently exhibiting the artworks for sale from 234 galleries based across the world—about 90 percent of the galleries that had originally agreed to participate in the art fair at no cost. “I am so pleased that we are able to provide our exhibitors with an alternative platform to show the wonderful work that they had been working so hard to bring to Hong Kong this spring,” Adeline Ooi, the director Asia for Art Basel’s show in Hong Kong, told Artforum.
The concept was developed in 2017 by German art dealer David Zwirner for the online exhibition of his galleries in New York, London, Paris, and Hong Kong. When explaining the alternative viewing experience, he told the New York Times that, “in a funny way, the art world is late to the party if you think about other retail experiences.” Aside from furthering its commitment to the global retail market, the Online Viewing Rooms can also potentially increase attendance while significantly reducing the overall carbon footprint attached to the event.
While the exhibition was originally scheduled to be on display at Hong Kong’s Convention and Exhibition Center from March 17 to March 21, the virtual version will run from March 20 to March 25. Time will tell if this year’s other art fairs, which are currently feeling the pressure to cancel if they haven’t already, will consider establishing online viewing rooms of their own.