Art Basel Is Giving You Direct Digital Access to $400 Million Worth Of Art

Digital storefronts open to the general public on March 20.

By Tim Schneider For Artnews 15/03/2020

Art Basel has released the full list of dealers participating in its inaugural online viewing rooms, the initiative positioned as a digital stand-in for the organisation’s cancelled 2020 Hong Kong fair. The 231 dealers involved will collectively offer more than 2,000 artworks spanning the Modern to contemporary periods in traditional and new media alike, all of which were originally slated for inclusion on their respective stands at Art Basel Hong Kong this March.

Together, the available pieces boast an aggregate value north of $400 million, almost undoubtedly making this the priciest collection of works ever offered through a single online portal.

Just like the physical fair, the online viewing rooms will stagger visitors’ entry based on prestige levels. VIP clients will have first crack at the inventory on offer from March 18 through 20. The general public will then be allowed through the virtual gates from March 20 to 25. To keep the groups separated, VIPs will be required to log into the online viewing rooms using their Art Basel-assigned credentials.

In a nod to transparency, all works on offer will be accompanied by either a precise price or a price range. There will be no “click to buy” functionality on the platform. Instead, sales inquiries will be made through an online form sent to a gallery representative, who will then answer questions or finalise a transaction outside of Art Basel’s platform (meaning by phone,  email, or perhaps an encrypted chat app). Responses are guaranteed within 24 hours, and an Art Basel spokesperson confirmed that the fair has advised replying to inquiries within the hour if at all possible. (Time-zone differences between buyer and seller could cause a slight delay in some cases, particularly if a dealer’s entire staff lives in the same region.)

Do Ho Suh, Main Entrance, 388 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903, USA, 2016.

Do Ho Suh, Main Entrance, 388 Benefit Street, Providence, RI 02903, USA, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin

The exhibitors in Art Basel’s online viewing room form a cross-section of its marketplace, from single-location dealers featuring emerging artists in the fair’s Discoveries section, to multi-location heavyweights moving blue-chip talent in its main Galleries section. The former group includes the likes of Jessica Silverman Gallery, presenting a solo booth of madcap Bay Area ceramicist Woody de Othello. The latter group includes the likes of David Zwirner, who will offer a curated selection of paintings exploring the history and limits of figuration.

All told, more than 90 per cent of the dealers admitted to Art Basel chose to participate in the online viewing room program, and more than half of them maintain a permanent space in Asia. It helps, of course, that fair organisers offered exhibitors the opportunity to participate for free this time—which may not be the case in future editions. But at least this time around, even top galleries that have developed their own independent online viewing rooms are joining hands with Art Basel’s virtual project. Gagosian, the other mega-dealer most prominently associated with innovating in the e-commerce space, will also participate. So while the end result won’t completely replace the physical fair lost to coronavirus concerns, it does represent a potential step forward.

“While nothing can replace the experience of seeing art in person,” said Adeline Ooi, Art Basel’s director Asia, “we hope that this initiative can bring some support and visibility to all the galleries and their artists affected by the cancellation of our March show.”

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