PUBLIC LIFE has come to a virtual standstill in much of the United States and parts of Europe and Asia, amid concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Museums and art galleries are closed. Major events are canceled and art fairs are among the casualties.

Earlier this month, The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, the Netherlands ended early, due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Scheduled for May 8-11, TEFAF New York Spring 2020, focusing on contemporary art, has been postponed to late October. TEFAF New York Fall 2020 featuring fine and decorative art has been canceled.


David Zwirner Gallery, “On Painting” Viewing Room (March 20-25, 2020): Installation view of CHRIS OFILI, “Vessel 11,” 2019 (oil, gold leaf, and graphite on linen, 63 1/4 x 39 inches / 160.7 x 99.1 cm). | Price $450,000


Also planned for May, the 2020 editions of the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair and Frieze New York are canceled. (Frieze Sculpture will still be installed along the outdoor plazas at Rockefeller Center.) These art fairs expect to return to the city in 2021.

The 22nd Biennale of Sydney is also affected. Its public exhibitions are closing March 24 until further notice. Originally scheduled from March 14 to June 8, the event is transitioning to a digital experience. “The Biennale will continue to adapt and innovate in the face of this global crisis,” the organizers said in a new release. “As doors close across Sydney, the Biennale will open online—for everyone, everywhere across the world.”

This year’s biennale is titled NIRIN (which means “edge” Wiradjuri) and for the first time the Sydney exhibition is partnering with Google Arts & Culture to create an engaging digital experience for audiences worldwide, including podcasts, virtual walkthroughs, interactive Q & As, curated tours and artist takeovers.

GIVEN THE UNPREDICTABLE CLIMATE, art fairs and galleries are shifting schedules and innovating, too. Originally set to be open to the public March 25-27, Art Basel Hong Kong (ABHK) was canceled last month.

“Following the severe outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has recently been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, Art Basel has no option but to cancel the upcoming edition of Art Basel Hong Kong,” Art Basel said in a Feb. 6 announcement.

“Numerous factors informed this decision, including: fundamental concern for the health and safety of all those working at and attending the fair; the severe logistical challenges facing the build-out and transit of artwork to the show; and the escalating difficulties complicating international travel, all arising as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus.”

On Feb. 20, ABHK announced plans to launch online viewing rooms, providing a platform for galleries to connect safely with a global audience of patrons and collectors. With social distancing the new norm, the crowded art fair experience has been transformed into a solitary screen experience.

The inaugural effort offers galleries that planned to participate in the Hong Kong fair, the opportunity to share images of works they intended to ship, unpack, and display in their booths. Art Basel’s online viewing rooms will exist in parallel with the in-person experience at forthcoming art fairs.

Art Basel Hong Kong launched online viewing rooms, providing a platform for galleries to connect safely with a global audience of patrons and collectors. The inaugural effort offers galleries the opportunity to share images of works they intended to ship, unpack, and display in their booths.

Of the 245 galleries selected to participate in the Hong Kong fair, Art Basel reports 235 are presenting works on its digital platform. The online viewing rooms are open March 20-25. They will close March 25 at 6 pm HKT. To view the art, browsers are required to create an account. Early access was given to “VIP” clients beginning March 18, providing two days of advance looking at available artworks ahead of the general public, a perk similar to VIP Preview days offered at art fairs.


Art Basel Hong Kong 2020 Viewing Room: Stephen Friedman Gallery – YINKA SHONIBARE CBE, “Butterfly Kid (Boy) IV,” 2019 (fibreglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton textile, silk, metal, globe, leather and steel baseplate, 125.0 x 120.0 x 73.5 cm / 49.2 x 47.2 x 28.9 inches). | Price $100,001-$250,000


THE ART BASEL VIEWING ROOMS feature more than 2,000 works of art presented by exhibitors from around the world. The platform enables each gallery to post up to 10 works, showing installation and detail views, specifications, and the price or price range of each work.

Asia is not a prime market for African American art, as of yet, but galleries are showing a selection of works by artists of African descent in the Art Basel Hong Kong viewing rooms. About 20 galleries are presenting approximately three-dozen works, a minute portion of the total works featured.

Up-and-coming artists such as Tschabalala Self, Nona Faustine, and Woody De Othello are represented, along with mid-career artists Theaster Gates, Nari Ward, and Chris Ofili, and well-established figures like Sam Gilliam and McArthur Binion.

Through its Art Basel viewing room, Stephen Friedman Gallery, for example, is offering two sculptures made in 2019 by Yinka Shonibare CBE in the $100,001-$250,000 range. “Number 133L” (2015), a wall sculpture by Leonardo Drew is featured at Pearl Lam Galleries in the $25,001-$50,000 range. At Victoria Miro Gallery, Wangechi Mutu‘s “Womangrove” (2018), a red soil, mixed-media sculpture is $75,000.

Some galleries have also launched their own independent viewing rooms via their websites. For visitors, the gallery platforms offer a user-friendly, curated experience. Access is open to the public in some cases, and in others requires submitting an email address to gain entry.

The pricing information available in both the Art Basel and gallery-based viewing rooms is a unique feature. Whether viewing blue-chip artworks for sale online or in-person at a gallery or art fair, rarely is the price of the work stated. The public is welcome to look at the art, but if you want to know how much it costs, you have to “inquire.”

Some galleries have also launched their own independent viewing rooms via their websites. For visitors, the gallery platforms offer a user-friendly, curated experience.

Pace Gallery Viewing Room: “Sam Gilliam: Watercolors” – SAM GILLIAM, “Untitled,” 2020 watercolor on washi paper, 74 × 39 inches / 188 cm × 99.1 cm). Price $180,000 | Via Pace Gallery


CURRENTLY, A FEW GALLERIES are promoting works by African American artists in their online viewing rooms. Washington, D.C.-based Sam Gilliam joined Pace Gallery last year. Pace is showing “Sam Gilliam: Watercolors” (March 16-28, 2020), a presentation of four large, abstract works—watercolor paintings on washi paper made in 2019 and 2020.

“Since completing his art education in the early 1960s, Sam Gilliam has been creating richly colored abstract compositions using watercolors on Japanese washi paper,” Pace notes. The posted price for each painting is $180,000.

The gallery’s viewing room is an online only exhibition. On the Art Basel platform, Pace is showing works by 10 gallery artists, including Gilliam, Jean Dubuffet, Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, and Yoshitomo Nara. Gilliam’s “Untitled” (2018) is an unframed drape painting soaked with vivid hues of tangerine orange with washes of deep green and bright yellow.

Los Angeles artist Paul Mpagi Sepuya creates ambiguous and fragmented images that counter traditional portraiture. Last year, he joined Vielmetter Los Angeles, where his first solo exhibition with the gallery is currently on view. “Paul Mpagi Sepuya: A conversation about around pictures” (March 14-April 25, 2020) features photographic works made in the artist’s studio between 2017 and 2020.

Vielmetter notes: “The playful interactions of artist and (mostly male) sitters who are often but not always nude; weaving limbs in gestures that span the suggestive, intimate, and self-consciously performative excites not only because there is the suggestion of sex, but also because this suggestion rebukes the objectifying gaze so typical of historical representations of queer, raced male bodies.”


Vielmetter Los Angeles Viewing Room: PAUL MPAGI SEPUYA, “Studio (0X5A5038),” 2020 (archival pigment print, 50 x 75 inches / 127 x 190.5 cm, Edition of 5, 2 AP), Inventory #SEP664| Courtesy the artist and Vielmetter Los Angeles, Photo by Jeff McLane


The gallery is not participating in Art Basel Hong Kong. Vielmetter describes its “private” viewing rooms as a new online service “created in response to the current times.”

Prices for Sepuya’s photographs range from $9,000-$24,000. (Prices were initially posted publicly. Now browsers are required to “inquire” about pricing.) The presentation available in the viewing room, coincides with the exhibition installed at Vielmetter’s downtown Los Angeles space, which is temporarily open by appointment only.

Vielmetter Los Angeles describes its “private” viewing rooms as a new online service “created in response to the current times.”

AMONG GALLERIES, DAVID ZWIRNER has been a pioneer, having offered online viewing rooms since 2017. The viewing rooms showcase art fair presentations and other special exhibitions.

Titled “On Painting” (March 20-25), David Zwirner’s Art Basel Hong Kong presentation promotes a selection of artists on its roster, including Chris Ofili and Kerry James Marshall. The offerings are featured on the Art Basel platform and in the gallery’s own viewing room.

Ofili’s “Vessel 11” (2019) is $450,000. “Untitled (Man on Couch)” (2009), a painting by Noah Davis, whose blockbuster survey was recently on view at David Zwirner in New York, is also offered. The posted price is $360,000 and it is already sold.


Featured in David Zwirner’s Gallery and ABHK Viewing Room: KERRY JAMES MARSHALL, “Black Boy,” 2018 (acrylic on PVC in artist’s frame, 36 1/2 x 30 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches / 92.8 x 77.4 x 7 cm). Price $1.5 million | © Kerry James Marshall, Courtesy David Zwirner Gallery


Two years ago, “Kerry James Marshall: History of Painting” (Oct. 3-Nov. 10, 2018) was on view at David Zwirner in London. “Black Boy” (2018) was among the works presented in the exhibition. It was also displayed in David Zwirner’s booth at Frieze Los Angeles 2019. Now the painting is offered in the Art Basel Hong Kong viewing rooms. The price is $1.5 million.

Describing “Black Boy,” the gallery said Marshall “revisits a basic exercise that is many children’s first introduction to making art and specifically to the idea of converting language into image. Here, he has covered a ground of randomly applied, brightly hued paint with a thick layer of black paint, into which he has scratched the letters b o y, and then connected them to form the outline of a boy’s head.”

In addition to the artworks, the specifications, and prices, David Zwirner’s beautifully designed viewing rooms feature detail images of the paintings, photographs of the artists in their studios, and insightful quotes from the artists.

Marshall’s quote comes from the foreword to “Kerry James Marshall,” a volume published in 2000.

He said: “I gave up on the idea of making Art a long time ago, because I wanted to know how to make paintings; but once I came to know that, reconsidering the question of what Art is returned as a critical issue.” CT


David Zwirner Gallery, “On Painting” Viewing Room (March 20-25, 2020): NOAH DAVIS, “Untitled (Man on Couch),” 2009 (Oil and acrylic on linen, 28 x 24 1/4 inches / 71.1 x 61.6 cm). | Posted Price $360,000. SOLD


Forthcoming in April, “Paul Mpagi Sepuya” is the first volume published widely to document the practice of the Los Angeles-based photographer. Expected in fall 2020, the monograph “Noah Davis” provides “a crucial record of the painter Noah Davis’s extraordinary oeuvre.” “Sam Gilliam: The Music of Color: 1967–1973” documents the artist’s recent exhibition at Kunstmuseum Basel. Published by Harry N. Abrams, “Kerry James Marshall” presents a fully illustrated overview of the artist’s practice. “Chris Ofili: Night and Day” was published to accompany British artist Chris Ofili’s first major U.S. museum show.


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