The omicron variant of the coronavirus is ripping through New York City: on Thursday, Bill de Blasio’s senior public health advisor Dr. Jay Varma tweeted that the percentage of NYC residents who tested positive for COVID-19 had doubled this week in just three days. There are innumerable factors that could be contributing to this surge, most of them structural and impossible to pin on individuals or the errant holiday party. But Art Basel Miami, which wrapped up on December 5th and was reported to be a return-to-business, NFT-laden bacchanal, seems likely to be a contributing element: New Yorkers flocked to the fair and its satellite events this year in droves, and Twitter is ablaze with anecdotes describing sick art fair attendees.
“I attended Art Basel Miami and have tested positive for Covid,” Kristi Evans, a travel blogger, told Observer on Thursday. “The only place that checked vaccination cards was the actual convention center. And masks were optional everywhere. Parties were packed. No sanitizer or masks to be seen.”
“I didn’t go to Basel, but last week I worked at an art storage warehouse with some art handlers fresh from the fairs,” a New York-based art handler who wished to remain anonymous told Observer on Thursday. “They seemed to be convinced they were exposed to Covid down there, but still came in to work. I’m getting a lot texts from art worker friends about Covid this week.”
David Bianchi, an actor and NFT artist, tweeted that he’d come down with the virus while attending the fair. “I went to Art Basel and got Covid,” Katherine Hulit told Observer on Thursday. “I only went to a few events, most of which were outside. [At] smaller galleries, I didn’t see anyone asking for vax cards or anything, but both doors were open. I didn’t see any masking anywhere. I did go to a rave that got shut down by police, but that was not Covid related. A lot of NYC nightlife people were there. Only a few people were wearing masks.”
“I felt most unsafe at the Miami airport coming back,” Hulit added. “My flight was at 7 am, I thought it would be kind of not busy during that time but I was wrong. There were tons of people at the airport, long check in lines and unmasked people or people whose noses were sticking out of the mask everywhere.”
Art Basel Miami 2021 represented a crowning achievement for evangelists of NFTs, the digital tokens that ripped the art world apart when they first started appearing on the scene around a year ago. As such, the fair was packed with cryptocurrency-adjacent lectures, exhibitions and parties; previously-marginalized digital artists were itching to congregate and celebrate.
“[The] entire crypto community is wrecked right now,” an arts professional who wished to remain anonymous told Observer on Thursday. “No one ever checked my vax card in Miami, it was so bad. Had Uber drivers in Florida tell me I didn’t have to wear a mask in their car, and when I pushed back on it, the weirdest thing happened. Multiple drivers said, ‘well I don’t want you to mess up your makeup!’ It was so delusional.”
Art Basel’s official Covid-19 compliance protocol required mandatory mask-wearing within the Miami Beach Convention Center as well as proof of vaccination, but there are clear rule-enforcement issues when it comes to events of that size: Basel 2021 reportedly drew 60,000 visitors.
“The convention center was pretty good about being strict,” Annie Armstrong, Artnet‘s Wet Paint columnist, told Observer. Armstrong was on the ground reporting in Miami all throughout Basel. “But the Deuce [an iconic Miami Beach dive bar] was packed to the gills. I maybe had my vaccination card checked twice during the whole week I was there. I think that why Basel was a superspreader event was because of all the events around Art Basel, but not Art Basel itself.”
This article was updated with additional accounts on Friday, December 17th at 1 p.m.
On December 21st, an Art Basel attendee’s name was removed from this article per her request.