The Shanghai fair Art021 has suspended its 2022 edition one day after opening, apparently due to a single security guard testing positive for Covid-19. The city’s concurrent fair West Bund Art & Design is still expected to run its full duration (until 13 November).
021’s organisers released the following announcement today: “In view of the current epidemic prevention and control situation, in order to effectively protect the health and public health safety of the exhibitors, it was decided to suspend the ART021 Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair after consultation with relevant parties. We apologise for the inconvenience caused by the suspension of the exhibition and will do our best to deal with the follow-up matters.”
Earlier today, the Chinese social media platform WeChat was flooded with images of crowds fleeing from Shanghai’s Art021 fair amid rumours that a positive Covid-19 case had shut down the event, which was held at the Shanghai Exhibition Centre. One particular image of a hazmat-suited dabai—Mandarin for pandemic workers—disinfecting the fair quickly went viral.
One of the fair’s co-founders, Bao Yifeng, earlier today told The Art Newspaper: “As per this year, disinfection has been required and we continue to disinfect and sterilise all public areas and passageways, and not toward any of the artworks. Currently we are still discussing with the relevant government authorities regarding the reopening of the fair. [We] will notify you as soon as possible.”
China’s strict Covid-19 measurements, which have shuttered most mainland fairs since the pandemic, have proved unpopular with many dealers. Many are were nervous about the closure’s possible repercussions, for this year’s fair as well as the city’s market long-term. “It shouldn’t be any sort of big deal, but the government is always so idiotic about these Covid prevention measures,” one participating dealer, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells The Art Newspaper. Eight exhibitors confirmed that they had been ushered out early in the afternoon, but most declined to comment as they remain unclear about what happened or what the current situation is.
At the time of publication, exhibitors locked out of the site remain concerned over the level of protection being given to works in the fair. They received a brief amount of time and a roll of thin plastic film wrap to cover works before being ejected. “I’m really worried for all the art in there,” one anonymous visitor says. “It’s very concerning as to whether the sanitising crew will care about them at all.” The extreme protocols of zero Covid include thorough sanitisation of objects and areas with close proximity to a positive patient, despite little evidence that the airborne disease is transmitted over surfaces. The Chinese language acquired a new word xiaosha, or kill by sanitising, this year.
Another of Art021’s co-founders, David Chau, posted to his WeChat today a statement: “Refute the rumors! Please don’t panic. It’s not sanitising the work. This is a normal, daily public area cleanup. We have to do it every year! It was misinformed. Please don’t post that photo to cause the wrong panic.”
Both 021 and the West Bund Art & Design Fair, held concurrently in Shanghai, require all visitors and workers to have received a negative PCR test result within 24 hours of admission, a rule that has left many visitors at the multi-building West Bund stuck between sites as their green codes click over to 48 hours.
Venue lockdowns have become common as China struggles to eradicate the Omicron strain. These include a shut down on 31 October of Disneyland Shanghai over a single infection. It is unclear at this point whether 021 will reopen over the weekend. Also unclear is how many people at the site will be deemed either a “close contact” and therefore removed to central quarantine for at least five days, or a “secondary contact”, which requires one week of home quarantine.
By evening Shanghai time today, some Wechat posts that shared the viral dabai image had been taken down. The site was also flooded with posts expressing support for Art021, which commemorates its tenth edition this year. The Art Newspaper understands that a number of those who had been at the fair site have now started receiving calls from China’s Centre for Disease Control, with further instructions pending.