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Hit by COVID-19 outbreak, art sector turns to online platforms

With the coronavirus outbreak leading to cancellations of exhibitions and art fairs, galleries are opening online platforms in an effort to revive plummeting sales of artworks.

Art Basel announced Friday it would launch Online Viewing Rooms, its first digital initiative offering exhibitors an opportunity to showcase artworks to its global network of patrons and buyers.

“As the market continues to evolve, Art Basel has continually reviewed how new technologies can give us fresh opportunities to support our galleries,” said Marc Spiegler, global director at Art Basel.

Online Viewing Rooms will be livestreamed from March 20 to 25, with VIP preview days from March 18 to 20.

Earlier this month, Art Basel Hong Kong -- the biggest international art fair in Asia -- shocked the art world by canceling the event amid the virus outbreak.

Galleries in Korea that had planned to participate in Art Basel Hong Kong were only refunded 75 percent of what they had paid.

Some welcomed Art Basel’s decision to initiate an online platform, though some collectors may prefer to see works in person.

“An online digital platform seems to be the only alternative for now in selling artworks,” said an official from Arario Gallery. “Because it is their first trial, I am curious how it will turn out.” The gallery has yet to confirm an exhibition scheduled for late March.

The Galleries Art Fair, the oldest art fair in Korea, also opened an online platform this year for the first time to cater to those reluctant to visit the event venue. 

Visitors wearing face masks look at works on display at Galleries Art Fair 2020, which runs Thursday to Sunday in Seoul. (Galleries Association of Korea)
Visitors wearing face masks look at works on display at Galleries Art Fair 2020, which runs Thursday to Sunday in Seoul. (Galleries Association of Korea)

The art fair, held from Thursday to Sunday in Gangnam, southern Seoul, showcased 3,000 pieces by 530 artists from 110 galleries. The annual event attracted 13,000 visitors this year compared with 36,000 visitors last year. This year’s edition has seen 1.7 billion won ($1.4 million) in sales of artworks so far, compared with 3 billion won the previous year.

However, its online platform run in collaboration with Naver attracted more than 15,000 visitors, according to the Galleries Art Fair.

"The online platform has been a huge help in terms of redeeming sales, and we have decided to extend the period of online platform viewing from February to March,” said an official at the Galleries Art Fair.

By Park Yuna (yunapark@heraldcorp.com)
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