Were Art021 and West Bund Shanghai ‘Sanitised to Death’?
The two strongest contemporary art fairs in Mainland China had to close prematurely after just one person tested positive for Covid.
ART021, Shanghai (10–13 November 2022). Courtesy ART021.
After two days of VIP previews, Art021 shut down on the evening of 11 November following a single positive Covid-19 test. On WeChat, organisers said the fair had been suspended 'to prevent the spread of the pandemic and protect the public health.'
Images began to emerge online of workers wearing protective equipment, known to Chinese as 大白 for their big white outfits, spraying disinfectant fog next to artworks in the Shanghai Exhibition Centre.
The West Bund fair closed early at 5.30pm on 12 November and didn't open for its final day on 13 November after several staff at a gallery booth were reportedly quarantined as close contacts to the person who tested positive at Art021.
Both fairs' venues were locked down for disinfecting and many international visitors and gallery staff entered a mandatory seven-day isolation.
Talking to Artnet News, David Zwirner Hong Kong's senior director Leo Xu quashed rumours that workers carelessly sprayed artworks.
The Art Newspaper's Lisa Movius described the fairs as '消杀'ed or 'sanitised to death', a term created to describe similar cancellations and closures amidst China's Covid-elimination strategy.
Movius said visitors made 'a beeline for exits' at 5pm following rumours of a lockdown. She also reported some gallery staff remained behind until 9pm to protect their artworks.
By 14 November, health authorities were reporting 255 close contacts to the Art021 case were isolating in central quarantine, and a further 4,412 secondary contacts would potential require self-quarantine at home or in their hotels.
Visitors to the West Bund fair on the Saturday were also instructed to take PCR tests in the days following.
The incident brought an abrupt end to the biggest art week in the People's Republic. Both fairs were supposed to run until the 13th, with over 100 exhibitors participating in each fair.
Participating galleries with no base of operations in Mainland China included David Zwirner, David Kordansky, Tina Keng, and Chantal Crousel at (Art021) and Pace, Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth, and Lehmann Maupin at West Bund.
Galleries did their best to adapt to the circumstances—with Almine Rech, for instance, continuing to make sales through social commerce platform Xiaohongshu.
The Chinese government recently signalled it will begin winding down its zero covid policy, a step Rech said 'will help to rebuild international collectors' confidence.'
Some Chinese artists have expressed frustration with China's handling of Covid-19.
Yuge Zhou's projection for art on theMART in Chicago was in part inspired by the loneliness of being unable to reenter China.
Meanwhile art student Zhisheng Wu squeezed into 27 hazmat suits in Times Square to convey his feelings of restriction and claustrophobia. —[O]