Culture Club
Culture Club

Brace yourself for March madness and culture fatigue when Art Basel Hong Kong changes dates

Shifting dates in 2015 may seem a small move, but when a giant of the Art world takes such a step, the vibrations can be unsettling ... particularly for the local market

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 12:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 March, 2014, 7:11pm

There are still more than two months before Art Basel Hong Kong returns but the organisers of Asia’s largest modern and contemporary art fair have already announced the new dates for NEXT year – which move the fair two months forward.

Shifting the dates might seem like a small move. But Art Basel is a giant in the world’s art market, and one small step from this giant can cause a ripple effect – and some are already contemplating a reaction.

Art Basel says its Hong Kong fair in 2015 will be staged from March 13 to March 17. Its VIP preview will be extended from one day to two days on March 13 and 14. The rest of the days will be open to the general public.

It is almost exactly two months earlier – this year’s Art Basel Hong Kong will take place from May 14 to May 18, with the first day being the VIP preview.

The May schedule was inherited from the previous fair ART HK, before it was acquired by Art Basel’s mother company MCH Swiss Exhibition (Basel) Ltd in 2011. The first Art Basel Hong Kong was held last year and it quickly established itself as the biggest new event in the art world, attracting more than 60,000 visitors. Art Basel Hong Kong maintains a 50:50 ratio between Asian and international galleries to distinguish itself from other Art Basel fairs – Art Basel in Basel in June and Art Basel Miami Beach in December.

Art Basel’s director for Asia Magnus Renfrew says the discussion to move the fair earlier has been ongoing but fitting the dates in with the hectic schedule of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition in Wan Chai has not been easy. “It is one of the most booked up convention centres in the world,” Renfrew says.

One of the main reasons to move the Hong Kong fair to March is to keep the Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Basel Switzerland further apart.

“To those who belong to the international travelling circus of the art world, last year was a nightmare.”

To those who belong to the international travelling circus of the art world, last year was a nightmare. It began with Frieze Art Fair in New York during the second week of May. It was then followed by Art Basel Hong Kong just few days later. And straight after Art Basel Hong Kong there was Venice Biennale, which opened in the last week of May. And then another week later, it was Art Basel in Basel.

Personally I heard of art dealers, collectors, journalists and critics moaning about the beyond-hectic schedule last year. Some chose to avoid the opening week of the Venice Biennale if they could (usually they are collectors). Those who couldn’t avoid the madness (art dealers, journalists and curators) simply had to press ahead and take regular doses of vitamin C to help them survive the prolonged sleep-deprived madness.

According to Renfrew, March would make a better time slot, even though March will see Art Tokyo (which targets a local audience) and Art Dubai (which focuses on Middle Eastern art). He is confident that Art Basel Hong Kong’s new date would make things work better. “It will attract a wider possible audience,” says Renfrew. “It will be the most convenient for galleries and travellers.”

To the international audience, it might be a better timing. But how will that affect the local art scene?

First, May has already become an “art month” with not just the art fair but also other art market activities such as Christie’s spring auction and other auctions taking place around the same time, creating this synergy effect. There are other satellite fairs or hotel fairs held during the same time period. Also there are other galleries and museum openings in May. So what will happen after Art Basel Hong Kong is moved to March? Will these events also follow suit? Will museums and galleries need to change their exhibition schedule in order to accommodate the new date?

Sources say it will be difficult to move the dates, especially when there are simply no venues available. Others might need to reassess whether to change their dates too. ArtWalk, which takes place in March and will return next week on March 12, is now deciding whether to continue with the traditional March time slot.

“Art Basel’s decision to move to an earlier-in-the-year-time-slot for its art fair is not unexpected – they had previously announced a February art fair until it was pointed out that the Lunar New Year was Asia’s equivalent of Christmas,” ArtWalk organiser John Batten said in a statement sent to the media.

Besides those in the art circle, I also wonder how general culture lovers feel about these new dates. March is a traditionally busy month – there are the Hong Kong Arts Festival (which runs from February into the third week of March) and the Hong Kong International Film Festival (which usually kicks off on the last or second-to-last week of March). It is very likely that Art Basel Hong Kong will be sharing the same audience base of these events – high disposable income and well-educated. Visiting the art fair probably won’t take up as much time as sitting through performances or films, but will people still have enough energy to go to so many events? Will there be a culture overdose next March?

Renfrew is confident that there won’t be competition for audience. In fact, there could be opportunities that are yet to be discovered.

So March 2015 will be a TRULY Hong Kong art month. And whether the city will be suffering from culture fatigue is waiting to be seen.