Ernesto Neto, "The Spirit of the Fricabra Eyes", 2019. At the Fortes D'aloia & Gabriel stand

In February, when Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK) had to cancel its 2020 edition, amid protests due to the initial outbreak of the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) in China, it was announced that a digital platform would be offered to exhibitors who were planning to participate in the fair. From March 20th to 25th, ABHK launched its online viewing rooms to the public (open to VIPs on the 18th). Online rooms were accessible at artbasel.com/viewingrooms and the Art Basel app.

Among the participating galleries were four Brazilian houses, supported by the Latitude Project (Platform for Brazilian Art Galleries Abroad). They were Bergamin & Gomide, Fortes D'Aloia & Gabriel, Mendes Wood DM and Galeria Nara Roesler. In an official statement, the fair stated that “with 235 galleries and over 2K works, the new initiative has brought the art community together during a challenging time; collectors came together to take virtual tours and contemplate the online exhibitions, inventing new ways to enjoy the fair”. The organization also announced that this inaugural edition of Art Basel Viewing Rooms brought together 250 visitors from all over the world. It will work, from now on, as an additional platform to present the fair to the whole world.

Although some participants did not join the initiative, ABHK still had the vast majority of galleries scheduled to participate in the physical fair, totaling 231, about 90% of them, including great houses such as Gagosian, Pace and David Zwirner. It has been estimated that the works on display total more than $250 million. 

The change in format encouraged galleries to show different types of work, better suited to virtual space and canvas. A positive point is the almost unlimited possibility of exhibiting audiovisual works that in the physical space – because of the sound – could interfere with each other.

In a statement, Adeline Ooi, Art Basel's Asia director, said she was pleased to be able to offer an alternative platform to showcase the works they would be working so hard to bring to Hong Kong, adding that: "While nothing can replace experience of seeing the art in person, we hope this initiative will bring some support and visibility to all galleries and their artists affected by the cancellation of the March show.”

Still from the recording of the performance If I had the words to tell you we wouldn't be here now performed by Victoria Sin at the Chi-Wen Gallery
Still from the recording of the performance If I had the words to tell you we wouldn't be here now, performed by Victoria Sin at Galeria Chi-Wen. Photo: Disclosure

With Just Kids! Taipei's Chi-wen Gallery showed a selection of works by young Taiwanese photographers, showing fewer photographs than expected, opting to publish photobooks and present the full work next year. Also by the Chi-wen Gallery, the work If I had the words to tell you we wouldn't be here now (2019), a live performance by Victoria Sin and documented on video.

Life Shines On, by Yayoi Kusama
Life Shines On, by Yayoi Kusama. Photo: Disclosure

Other highlights were Life Shines On (2019), by Yayoi Kusama, brought by Ota Fine Arts with internal and external images of the work and a description made by Kusama herself to provide a more extensive understanding of this work. In addition to these 3 projects, Galeria Jessica Silverman, in San Francisco, presented a solo show by Woody de Othello, and Fergus McCaffrey, in New York, brought a collective focused on the relationship between Japan and the USA in the post-war period through the works of Jasper. Johns, Miyako Ishiuchi, Natsuyuki Nakanishi, Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg and Toshio Yoshida, among others.

Lastly, My Room is Another Fishbowl (2016) – in the featured photo – also gained the spotlight. The installation by Philippe Parreno, conceived by Tate Modern for his turbine hall, consists of 90 mylar film balloons screen-printed to look like real fish.

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