Faced with growing pressure from nervous exhibitors and last week’s US “do not travel” advisory for Switzerland, Art Basel (September 24-26) sent another letter of comfort and concessions to its exhibitors.
The letter describes two important and one-off initiatives that Art Basel director Marc Spiegler recounts The arts journal are “extraordinary measures for extraordinary times”. First, Art Basel has pledged to foot the bill for every quarantine hotel and second, it will establish a “solidarity fund” of 1.5 million Swiss francs ($ 1.6 million) which will be distributed among all galleries disappointed with their sales at the fair. explanation on that later.
When asked if the galleries had already abandoned the fair, prompting these drastic measures, Spiegler said The arts journal: “No. Obviously there are galleries that are thinking about it and are concerned about the situation. But, so far, no one has withdrawn.”
Pay the quarantine bill
In the letter, Spiegler writes: “We have spoken and listened to many of you after the Friday communication and are deeply aware of the concerns that exist as the opening day of Art Basel in Basel approaches two weeks from now. . “
Two major problems persist for exhibitors, says Spiegler. First, the uncertainty around sales, “due to the expectation of a reduced number of collectors present”. Second, what would happen if one (or more) member of the staff of a gallery tested positive for Covid-19 and therefore had to quarantine themselves for 10 days in Switzerland.
Thus, as many exhibitors do not have travel insurance to cover the hotel’s quarantine costs, Art Basel has committed to cover this and “will bear the additional costs of hotel reservations and travel. for any exhibitor tested positive and remaining in Switzerland for quarantine “. Regarding the impact of a positive test on the rest of a gallery team, another major concern, the letter points out that “under Swiss law, quarantine due to contact tracing does not occur. applies only to people who are not vaccinated and who also meet all three of the following: a) they spent more than 15 minutes with the person who tested positive, b) indoors in close proximity, and c) without wearing a mask. “
Spiegler tells The Journal of the Arts: âWe don’t expect there to be a lot of positive tests, but we didn’t want galleries to worry throughout the fair that there might be some extra expense at the end, so we figured that we would eliminate this financial risk for them by covering it ourselves. ” While Spiegler says the Basel hotels have agreed “preferential arrangements” with the fair, he refuses to give a worst-case number for the bill Art Basel may have to pay: “We never talk about specific numbers, but we think it’s an acceptable risk for us to take. “
To increase the sales
Sales, says Spiegler, are more complicated. âThe reality is that we expect some galleries to do very well, some to break even and some to lose money. We hope you will agree with us that our primary concern should be with the latter group – those who do not cover their costs, âhe wrote in the letter.
And for these, Art Basel has created a âone-off solidarity fundâ of 1.5 million francs (1.6 million dollars). The way it works is that each gallery (in theory) receives a promise of a 10% reduction in its price per square meter (on top of the 10% reduction given in the spring). This reduction will not be paid automatically, but rather set aside as a sort of relief fund by Art Basel. A few weeks after the end of the fair and before sending the final invoices, Art Basel will ask each gallery whether or not it wishes to participate in this fund, depending on the evolution of its sales.
If a gallery is happy with their sales, then their share will remain in the pot and will be distributed to those who had bad sales and opted in. The award system will be administered by an independent auditor and Art Basel will not disclose which galleries have benefited from the fund.
“We put aside what most people would consider a large sum of money, especially in the context of not having been able to organize large-scale events for a year and a half, in order to create a sort of safety net, given the fact that you really don’t know what’s going to happen with sales, âsaid Spiegler The arts journal. âOn the one hand, the Delta variant caused some people to give up their trip to Basel. On the other hand, the market is strong, the material arriving is strong, the European market is strong and European collectors are arriving.
He explains: âThe more galleries that choose to forgo the reduction, the greater the reduction will be for the remaining galleries. And the only question is how many galleries decide to leave the money in the pot to be distributed to lower performing colleagues. ? “
Of course, this system is based on the assumption that the biggest galleries taking the biggest stalls – the Gagosians, Hauser and Wirths and David Zwirners of this world – are likely to have bigger sales and, therefore, will not opt. not to receive the relief payment. , thus leaving their large piece in the pot to be shared among others more needy, that is, smaller galleries.
One last point: galleries will not have to quantify their sales to benefit from the reduction. âWe thought of a much more complicated system where people have to open their books to prove to us that they’ve lost money – that’s how a government would work,â Spiegler said. The arts journal. âBut instead we decided to keep the system very simple and let the galleries decide if they feel they need the reduction, or if they prefer to pass it on to their colleagues who might need it more. It’s kind of a system. of honor. “
So will Art Basel 2021 be lost? Spiegler responds, âI mean, our goal is to have a profitable fair. And, and obviously, we’ve chosen to contribute some of those profits to the galleries. But we don’t intend to run it at a loss. We believe that the impact on our profits is acceptable given the situation, and it is really important to support our galleries during this difficult time. “
In the letter, Rachel Lehmann, co-owner of Lehmann Maupin, says: âWe are committed to supporting the art world as we know it. Fairs are a key part of our ecosystem, as are galleries large and small. “