With Covid-19 once more ripping through the world with unfettered deadly force in a new surge, it stands to reason that many arts institutions and fairs are reconsidering whether they should implement new safety measures or even go forward at all. It looks like Art Basel Miami Beach 2021 ended up taking place at potentially the worst possible time: the blockbuster event dovetailed with the emergence of the Omicron variant, and anecdotally, many attendees seem to have returned from the fair sickened with Covid-19.
Recently, curator and artist Jenni Crain passed away from complications related to Covid-19 at the age of 30, devastating her community. On December 21, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it would be reducing visitor capacity in light of the surge; the museum also warned potential visitors to expect long waits and long lines if they wish to enter. London’s Natural History Museum announced that it will close through December because of an “unforseen staff shortage caused by COVID-19,” and museums in the Netherlands and Denmark are also shutting down due to new lockdowns.
The Brafa fair in Brussels, which was set to take place in January, has also been postponed because of the surge, and the Tefaf Maastricht, one of the most prominent fairs in Europe related to antiques and Old Masters, has also decided to “postpone” (with the caveat that the fair is very likely to actually be cancelled) its March 2022 fair.
Tefaf Maastricht also sent an email to exhibitors stating that they decide to rescind their contributions from the event by December 10, they would be required to pay €7,500; this, predictably, infuriated many exhibitors. For the art world, it would be understandable if cancellations and snafus such as these were suddenly evoking strong feelings of déjà vu. In 2020, when the pandemic first descended around the world, art fairs were being cancelled and museums were being shut down left and right.
Tefaf Maastricht 2020 was shut down four days earlier than had been planned when an Italian exhibitor came down with Covid-19; Art Basel Miami 2020 was called off altogether; Art Basel Hong Kong was cancelled in February of 2020; the list goes on. As new variants continue to blossom, expect the list to grow even longer.
Correction: An earlier version of this piece stated that “Art Basel Inside” Abu Dhabi was called off because of the coronavirus; this is incorrect. We have updated the article to reflect this.