In the first week of February, Art Basel announced the cancellation of its Hong Kong fair (19-21 March) due to the spread of Covid-19. To create an alternative viewing experience in the time of pandemic, the fair organizers have launched a digital initiative which will feature 2,000 artworks.

Spanning modern, postwar and contemporary art, including paintings, sculptures, drawings, installations, photography, video and digital art, these works by 234 galleries were originally intended for Art Basel Hong Kong. With these “Online Viewing Rooms" (OVR), collectors can view and buy art without needing to step out. In an interview with Lounge, Adeline Ooi, Director Asia, Art Basel, talks about the decision to launch this digital initiative and the format of the viewing rooms. Edited excerpts:

What prompted the decision to launch Online Viewing Rooms?

As the art market continues to evolve, Art Basel is continually investing in new technologies to support its galleries and to foster a healthy art ecosystem. The OVR initiative is designed to provide an additional platform to galleries to engage with the highest calibre of audiences worldwide, including Art Basel’s global network of patrons, as well as new collectors and buyers. We have brought forward the launch of the first edition of this digital initiative in an effort to provide our Art Basel Hong Kong 2020 exhibitors with an opportunity to showcase the works of art they were planning to bring to the fair at no cost. Future iterations will coincide with Art Basel’s three shows throughout the year.

What is the format and design of these viewing rooms?

Art Basel’s OVR will allow collectors to browse through premier artworks, searching by galleries, artists and medium. They can then directly contact the gallery with sales inquiries. Each gallery can present up to 10 works at the same time. They may include artworks of all media, which will be displayed in a room-view setting. However, sculptures, installations, video/film and performances will not be displayed in a room view, but rather as an image against a grey background, as will works of all other media larger than 5.5m in width and 3.2m in height. All works will be displayed with either an exact price or a price range, with the overall value of work presented in the OVRs being in excess of approximately $270 million (around 2,000 crore).

Could you talk about the presentations from India?

In this inaugural digital presentation, we have five Indian galleries, including Chemould Prescott Road, Gallery Espace, Experimenter, Jhaveri Contemporary and Vadehra Art Gallery. I believe presentations from these galleries are very well thought-out and reflect their programmes and identities. There are works by leading names such as Atul and Anju Dodiya, Jagannath Panda, Shilpa Gupta, Ayesha Sultana, Praneet Soi, and solo presentation of paintings by Matthew Krishnanu (Bangladesh/UK) at Jhaveri Contemporary. There is one particular work that I am particularly excited about—Zarina Hashmi’s rare papercast sculptures from the 1970-80s.

The first iteration of the new digital initiative will run till 25 March.

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