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Art Basel tries to reassure exhibitors about Hong Kong fair as WHO declares public health emergency

31 January 2020

Our daily round-up of news from the art world

Art Basel tries to reassure exhibitors about Hong Kong fair as WHO declares public health emergency | Hours before yesterday’s declaration by the World Health Organization that the highly contagious coronavirus is a public health emergency,  Art Basel sent out a letter to the exhibitors of Art Basel Hong Kong promising that the fair’s organisers are ‘working hard to review all possible options’, but that ‘postponing or cancelling an event of this scale is a complex process’. The letter acknowledged the potential health risks, adding, ‘we fully recognize the urgency of the situation’. David Zwirner is one of the first dealers publicly to pull out of the fair, while London dealer Richard Nagy has written a letter, seen by Bloomberg, in which he calls for ‘decisive leadership’ to cancel this year’s edition, adding ‘not one of our foreign clients will be attending’. The Hong Kong Art Gallery Association, meanwhile, has released a statement today in support of any decision made by Art Basel, with many gallery owners pledging to go ahead with planned exhibitions. 

Bolsonaro appoints Regina Duarte as Brazil’s culture secretary | Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has appointed Regina Duarte as minister of culture, replacing Roberto Alvim who was sacked last week after a video on the ministry’s Twitter feed showed him apparently quoting the Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. Duarte, who publicly supported Bolsonaro’s 2018 presidential campaign, is a former actor best-known appearing in novelas during the 1970s and 1980s. In an interview with Globo in May, Duarte criticised Rouanet Law, Brazil’s $2.3bn federal funding scheme for culture

Unseen Amsterdam declares bankruptcy | The organisers of the art fair Unseen Amsterdam, which specialises in contemporary photography, have declared bankruptcy. They did not confirm whether or not the fair would go ahead with its 9th edition in September, but trustee Angelina Bakker has informed Dutch newspaper Volksrant that the organisers are talking to ‘interested’ parties. In 2017, the fair’s umbrella company, Unseen Platform, lost one of its founding partners, the Amsterdam museum Foam, and the financial sponsorship of both BankGiro Lottery and the Blockbuster Fund. 

Museum of Chinese in America hopes to salvage collection devastated by fire | After a devastating fire last week at the site where it stores its archives, the Museum of Chinese in America in New York has been given hope that much of its collection can be saved. On Wednesday, contract workers removed some 130 boxes comprising around 20 per cent of the collection, which was found to be either dry or damp but not deluged. These items are already being air-dried or freeze-dried at other sites, but the condition of the remaining collection is still unknown. 

Dutch museum sues London dealer after hackers intercept $3.1m deal | The Rijksmuseum Twenthe in the Netherlands, has sued London art dealer Simon C. Dickinson after it was tricked by hackers posing as the dealer into wiring $3.1m to a Hong Kong bank account for a painting by John Constable. The judge of a London commercial court yesterday dismissed the museum’s lawsuit against the dealer for negligence, in which it argued that Dickinson had been aware of the scam. The court has yet to rule on the ownership of the painting, which is currently in the museum’s possession. Dickinson’s lawyer claims that he was unaware of the fraud and that it was the museum’s responsibility to confirm the bank account’s legitimacy.

W.M. Keck Foundation donates $50m to $650m Building LACMA campaign  | A $50m gift from the W.M. Keck Foundation to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has put the museum less than $10m short of raising the $650 needed to cover the construction of a new building. The Building LACMA campaign is expected to be complete by the end of February, with construction work commencing this spring as scheduled.