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The spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 has brought down two art fairs in two days. Art Fair Tokyo has been cancelled and Art Dubai has been postponed indefinitely because of the virus, which also led to the cancellation of Art Basel Hong Kong last month.

Galleria Continua, Art Dubai (21–24 March 2018). Courtesy Ocula. Photo: Charles Roussel.

In a press release issued today, the Art Tokyo Association said it had cancelled the 15th edition of Japan's biggest international art fair, Art Fair Tokyo, which would have presented 146 exhibitors.

'We considered measures to minimize the deleterious effects to the health of the exhibitors and visitors as much as possible, however, we have determined that we cannot 100 percent eliminate uncertainty and the possibility of infection,' they said.

They apologised for making the announcement so soon before the fair's intended opening at the Tokyo International Forum on March 20.

Almost 8,000km away, the 14th edition of Art Dubai was postponed because of the virus. The organisers did not provide new dates for the fair, which would have gathered 90 galleries from 39 countries at the Madinat Jumeirah resort from March 25–28.

A spokesperson said it was not accurate to suggest the fair was simply being 'postponed' until 2021 as 'Art Dubai are looking at specific future opportunities.'

Art Dubai is also persisting with a downsized programme tailored to the local community that will take place on the same dates. The new format will include gallery presentations, the Global Art Forum, and the fair's Residents and Campus Art Dubai sections.

'The goals and ambitions for this re-configured programme maintain our objective to deliver commercial, institutional and critical engagement with Dubai's art ecosystem—a commitment of support to our local community that we felt an imperative to uphold,' the event's CEO Benedict Floyd, Artistic Director Pablo del Val, and International Director Chloe Vaitsou said in a statement.

Galleries Ocula Magazine spoke to were resigned to the decision.

'We rely on the fair's direction and instinct on their scene and market to decide if they have to stick to the plan or change course,' said Hormoz Hematian of Dastan's Basement, Tehran. 'Not to mention that it is impossible to book a flight to Dubai these days out of Tehran.'

'We have been thinking about digital platforms and other technology we can use to bring what we do to our audiences without them having to come to us,' said Sunny Rahbar, co-founder of The Third Line, Dubai.

'I feel encouraged that this will create a whole new possibility for the way we work in the art world, and this will remain past this virus scare and prove successful,' she said.

Japan is now reporting over 1,000 cases of COVID-19, counting those diagnosed aboard cruise ship the Diamond Princess, while the United Arab Emirates has reported just 21 cases. The virus is quickly spreading in the Middle East, however, with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Tunisia, and Morocco reporting their first cases on Monday. After China, where the virus originated, Iran is one of the worst-impacted countries worldwide with over 2,300 confirmed cases.

'Within [Iran], most art galleries are currently closed in order to avoid further contamination by the virus. Therefore, a very vibrant scene is suddenly at a stand still,' Hematian said.

However, he added, 'we have lately received several requests from active art scene social media accounts with ambitious and exciting projects. We are trying to make the best of it.' —[O]

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