With two major cultural events last weekend, the international art scene signaled that it does not intend to have Covid cancel another year.
Held May 19-23, Art Basel Hong Kong marked the return of one of the most revered art fairs in the world. The show followed Frieze New York, which happened earlier this month and was the first major art fair in New York since the pandemic began.
After a one-year hiatus, the extremely popular Eurovision Song Contest also returned to Europe. The competition took place May 18-22 and, according to the show’s organizers, was watched by nearly 200 million viewers, including a live audience of 3,500 people.
After large gatherings around the globe were canceled for more than a year, both events mark a significant step forward on the path to normalcy after the pandemic and highlight the different methods Asia and Europe are using to achieve this goal.
Art Basel Hong Kong becomes “hybrid”
With its first show in more than a year, Art Basel returned to the world stage after canceling its three annual shows last year – Hong Kong in March, its flagship show in Basel, Switzerland in June, and Miami Beach (Florida) in December.
All three events are back this year with the first Art Basel Hong Kong, which will present a “hybrid” format that allows participants to appear virtually or in person.
Art Basel Hong Kong 2021, which was relocated from March to May, made its debut in a “hybrid” trade fair format.
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Private collectors from more than 30 countries and territories took part in “virtual tours” of the fair, which was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. More than 100 galleries participated, with many joining through satellite booths that allowed gallery owners to interact with attendees without traveling to Hong Kong.
“After we had designed our booth plan for the fair, the gallery delivered all of the artwork to Hong Kong to be installed by the Art Basel team, as in previous years,” said Valerie Carberry, partner at Gray. Chicago, New York. “Since we couldn’t travel to Hong Kong to attend the fair ourselves, Art Basel appointed us a booth assistant who took care of the booth in our place.”
The gallery planned video meetings ahead of the show to prepare the assistant, who, according to Carberry, “was incredibly professional … we felt well represented”.
Face masks were created as new canvases at Art Basel Hong Kong 2021.
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The participants were also able to view their collections via online viewing rooms that Art Basel launched last year. Online rooms of the canceled exhibition in Hong Kong in 2020 showed works from more than 230 galleries and, according to Art Basel, attracted around 250,000 visitors.
“We all wanted to be there in person, of course, but the ability to share real-time information with customers at your booth was as close as ever to an in-person pandemic art fair,” said Carberry.
“We all felt a bit ‘jet lagged’ after we did not travel, but it was worth telling our Hong Kong customers how much we value their business and the support of our program.”
The Eurovision Song Contest is back
The cancellation of last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, or Eurovision for short, may have resulted in this year’s competition reaching its largest audience since 2016.
In the singing competition that began in 1956, musical acts from predominantly European countries compete against each other, with 26 reaching the grand finals. The country that produces the winning act hosts the next competition.
This year, the Italian rock group Maneskin won the main prize and made sure that the competition will take place in Italy in 2022.
Italian rock group Maneskin won Eurovision in 2021, which relied on social distancing and testing to keep participants healthy before the show.
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The show was largely a face-to-face event with most of the attendees performing live from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The Australian Montaigne performed over a taped shot due to their inability to travel to Europe. This was a first in the show’s 65-year history.
Participants wore masks and followed social distancing mandates. According to Eurovision, the participants were subjected to regular Covid tests and isolated in their hotel rooms unless they were exercising.
The show also limited the number of live viewers present. Still, the 3,500 people who watched in person were enough to make Eurovision one of the largest live entertainment events in Europe since the beginning of the pandemic in 2021.
The annual competition, which casts a spell over Europe but is largely unknown to American audiences, is slated to launch in the US next year on NBC. According to the Eurovision website, artists from 50 states, five US territories and Washington, DC will compete in the “American Song Contest” for the title of the best original song.
With the exception of Art Dubai, which began in late March 2021, most of the major international art exhibitions that were originally supposed to take place before May have been canceled. These include Frieze Los Angeles and Dutch Tefaf Maastricht, both of which were postponed before being canceled.
The Art Basel fairs in Basel and Miami Beach are back in the books, although the Switzerland show has been postponed from June to September in order to “visit as broad an international audience as possible,” according to the fair’s website.
Another top international art fair, Frieze London, is slated to return in October.
It is expected that these fairs will be very personally attended. According to Marc Spiegler, the global director of Art Basel, the digital components of Art Basel will be retained.
“We have developed a variety of techniques and tactics for people to access a gallery’s programming digitally,” he told the New York Times. “The pandemic has enabled us to do a better job for the collectors who cannot attend.”
The next Eurovision competition is planned for May 2022. Although details have not been confirmed, online speculation about dates and locations has begun.
Hong Kong is also pushing high-profile plans that align with the city’s conservative approach to curbing Covid. In line with its nickname as the “Art Capital of Asia”, the city will host a number of art festivals and exhibitions, including the contemporary art exhibition “Ink City” and the French May Arts Fest with around 80 events across the city in June.
This year, a new visual arts museum is due to open in Hong Kong’s new “T” -shaped M + building.
PETER PARKS | AFP | Getty Images
The Hong Kong Ballet will play Romeo + Juliet next month after the show was canceled last summer.
The new M + building in Hong Kong will house one of the largest museums for contemporary visual culture in the world. The “T-shaped” museum has an area of 65,000 square meters, including 33 galleries, three cinemas, a research center, restaurants, a tea and coffee bar, a members’ lounge and a roof garden with a view of Victoria Harbor.
The museum is slated to open this year.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal is the parent company of CNBC.
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