Abu Dhabi’s Art Basel Inside cancelled less than three months before it opens

Art Basel has cancelled its exclusive Art Basel Inside event planned for 14-16 February in Abu Dhabi.

The official statement blames the timescale, saying “Art Basel Inside in Abu Dhabi was always an ambitious project on quite a short timeline”; but apparently there are no plans to reschedule it, or indeed to host Art Basel Inside anywhere else, so maybe it’s the very idea of Art Basel Inside that turns out to be less than perfect.

The website for the event carries a grey-on-black home page with the gloomy message that “this decision has not come easily, and has been made jointly by Art Basel, our parent company MCH Group, and our partner, the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi”.

As we reported in September, it was never clear exactly what Art Basel Inside was going to be. Art Basel describes it as “an immersive, creative journey” and “a framework that offers artists, creatives, thinkers, founders, and entrepreneurs from all fields a unique chance to forge new pathways to the future through the arts”. Some 300 participants – “thought leaders from diverse fields and industries” – would be given “the opportunity to share visions and engage with the issues facing the world today”.

Marc-Olivier Wahler, the director of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva, had been signed up to curate the event. At the time (last September) he told ARTnews that “it all started with this idea for offering to art lovers a kind of experience that doesn’t exist elsewhere”, and while no participating artists were ever named it does seem that the event would include installations and participatory art events.

About the only other fact we had at the time was the price – $15,000 per attendee, to include luxury accommodation and meals (but not flights). We were a tad sceptical about that, but an Art Basel spokesperson told The Art Newspaper that “from the feedback and the level of interest we received, we don’t believe the price point was an issue”.

So what was the issue? The dates coincided with Frieze Los Angeles, but since Art Basel Inside apparently wasn’t going to be a selling show that shouldn’t have been a major issue. Art Dubai wouldn’t be coming along for a month (25-28 March) so there’s no clash there.

The price point may have been acceptable to a prospective audience, but maybe the overall financials turned out to be too rich for the three organising partners. A back-of-the-envelope calculation gives basic revenues of $4.5 million (300 tickets at $15,000) but three nights of all-inclusive five-star accommodation with chef-prepared meals might come in at a total of $5,000 per head, so that alone would be $1.5m.

Add all the other extras – the chauffeuring, the planning and organisation, the curator, buns and coffee at half time, and especially the artists and their presumably complicated offerings. It could well be that projected profits were looking low or absent, and maybe DCT – Abu Dhabi decided that its sponsorship investment would be better placed elsewhere.

Pure speculation, of course, but the UAE has never been averse to killing or postponing high-profile big-ticket projects in the arts.

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