Coronavirus Hits Hong Kong Arts Month: Spring Auctions and Events Rescheduled

Coronavirus hit Hong Kong Arts Month hard as a series of events scheduled are now cancelled or postponed, including the cancellation of the highly anticipated Art Basel. Outside Hong Kong, New York Asia Week scheduled to be held in March or April is now postponed to May or June. The Value has made a summary listing out the rescheduled dates of major art and auction events for your easy reference.

March and April are originally packed with a robust roster of art and auction events. While most events are either cancelled or postponed, Sotheby’s will continue with the spring sales in early April. Will the coronavirus outbreak bring any negative impact to the sales? Or, on the contrary, will that make it the winner in this trying time?

Art Basel has cancelled the 2020 edition

As of today, there are over 75,000 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infection and more than 2,000 fatalities. Art Basel and Art Central, two major art fairs in Hong Kong Art Months, decided to cancel the 2020 edition. For details, please read Coronavirus Cases Top 30,000: Christie's Postpones Spring Sales in Hong Kong and New York.

Christie’s also announced that the 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Hong Kong, planned to be held on 19 March to attract Art Basel’s crowd, will be postponed to May as a part of their spring sales.

Following Christie’s announcement, other auction houses such as Bonhams, Poly Auction Hong Kong, China Guardian (Hong Kong) also postponed their spring sales. China Guardian auction will be held in late May while the other two auction houses have not confirmed the new dates. Sotheby’s Hong Kong will go ahead with its spring sales in early April while closely monitoring the situation.

In regard to New York Asia Week that originally held in March, auction houses rescheduled most of the sales to June. Christie’s South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art Sale (21 March) and Sotheby’s Modern & Contemporary South Asian Art (16 March) will remain as scheduled.

Auction houses hold their major sales in the spring and autumn seasons. In recent years, two leading auction houses try to synergise with other art fairs by organising sales around the same period with major art events to attract more crowds. For example, Sotheby’s Hong Kong spring sales usually take place from late March to early April, concurrently with Art Basel Hong Kong whereas Christie’s Hong Kong spring sales are usually held in May in parallel with International Antiques Fair (IAF).

Under the new arrangement, Sotheby’s spring sales remain in late March to early April while other auction houses will postpone the sales to May and June. Some think that the coronavirus outbreak is going to have a negative impact on Sotheby’s spring sales since numerous countries have posed travelling restrictions on the Great China area, affecting the mobility of potential buyers. While some people think the auction house might gain in this spring auction monopoly as buyers and collectors who planned to buy artworks at Art Basel or New York Asia Week might spend their money on Sotheby’s offering in the coming spring sales.

David Hockney’s 30 Sunflowers will be offered at Sotheby’s Hong Kong spring sales

We are expecting stiff competition in the coming May and June as numerous sales overlapped after the rescheduling. Does the market have the capacity and appetite to take in so many works of art at the same time?

Besides, there is still uncertainty whether the epidemic will continue to affect business in May and June. Do auction houses have any plan B if postponing sales doesn’t seem to help? Further postponements will leave only two or three months for the auction house to prepare for their autumn season, which is held in late September to early October for Sotheby’s Hong Kong and November for Christie’s Hong Kong. It’s going to be challenging for auction houses to secure consignments of top-notch artworks for the autumn season given the time constraints.