intentionality & the post-covid cultural landscape

Individually we are no match for nature. Together we are.

Stewart Simonsen, Assistant Director-General, World Health Organization; in conversation with Fareed Zakaria, GPS, 24 May 2020

Congress will have to think with knowledge that we will have another crisis.”

Gary Cohn, Former Director, National Economic Council, Former President & Chief Operating Officer, Goldman Sachs, in conversation with Fareed Zakaria, GPS, 24 May 2020

Given the health, governance, and legal risks posed by the coronavirus and the covid-19 response, a primary issue affecting us all, including galleries, museums, and cultural organizations around the world, has been how to limit its spread. As a prophylactic vaccine has not yet been developed, decisions were made to limit possible exposure and contagion by distancing people from one another. In many countries all organizations and enterprises except those providing what have been considered “essential” services were closed, museums included.

Museums are public spaces that welcome people through their doors into shared spaces to look at art together. They have had to grapple with the questions of whether or not and how to engage their audiences while closed. They grapple now with the question of how best to re-open while continuing to mitigate the risk of contagion and spread.

The learning curve has been steep and rapid. Marc Spiegler, Global Director of Art Basel, and museum leaders from Asia, Europe, and the United States addressed the learning curve and responses of the museum sector during a webinar discussion that took place on 21 May,  “How will the pandemic change institutions?

Dr. Zoé Whitley, director of the Chisenhale Gallery, London, Anne Pasternak, Shelby White and Leon Levy Director of the Brooklyn Museum, New York City, Phlip Tinari, director and CEO of the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, and Dr. András Szántó, author and cultural strategy advisor, New York City, shared their thoughts and perspectives on the missions, priorities, and activities of their organizations, how they were managing during the pandemic and concomitant shut-down, risks, risk management, and ways to make it possible to be back in physical spaces looking at art with other people.

“What roles should institutions play in the post-covid cultural landscape, assuming you can even guess what the landscape is going to be?”

Acknowledging that “we have a responsibility to re-think how we remain relevant to our audiences,” Dr. Whitley asked, “how do you start charting a new path under these incredibly strange circumstances?”

“I think that’s precisely the question,” she continues. “What might rank as the world’s worst hypothetical interview question: how would you lead an organization remotely in the midst of a global pandemic? And you would think it was so absurd as to be not really be able to entertain it. And yet here we are.”

While understanding that the pandemic and the global response caught many off guard, knowing what we now know, we may need to revisit underlying assumptions of absurdity and re-map our thinking. The pathogen and pandemic did not come out of nowhere.  See: “Q&A: Could climate change and biodiversity loss raise the risk of pandemics?“.

Pathogens such as the coronavirus that is causing the covid-19 response occur abundantly in nature. As we, through our many behaviors, draw closer to wild animals, for instance, and draw them closer to us, and unless we work consistently and with intention to acknowledge, manage, and mitigate risk, we may expect ever more such pandemics.

The UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing may serve as a case study. Having closed its doors on 24 January, the UCCA re-opened to the public on 21 May. 

Philip Tinari reflected on the disappearance of everyday routine during the closure, the mood of solemnity of everyday existence, the poignancy of being back in physical space looking at art with people,  and the freedom to enter into a public space and look at art.

He observed that while “it’s poignant and it’s just wonderful to be back in physical space looking at art with people, … that can only happen because of larger dynamics in the society.”

“The freedom to enter into a public space and look at art,” the freedom to enter the UCCA Center for Contemporary Art, and Beijing’s 798 Art District in which it is located, is afforded by measures taken to control the contagion and spread.

“To even enter into 798, one needs to have one’s temperature taken and one needs to show a kind of virtual pass which is generated by a government app that, you know, tracks your data and proves that you have not been in any high-risk areas for the last 14 days or 21 days, and even, in some cases, synchs to facial-recognition thermometers that are around town. So, there’s a complete panopticon, and we’re the indirect beneficiaries of it.

“And at our door, there’s another temperature check as there is at the entrance of any restaurant or store. And masking here is completely mandatory and universal. And so then it just becomes a question of how to be responsible and keep things disinfected and use our guards to keep people distanced.

From “How technology is safeguarding health and livelihoods in Asia,” Oliver Tonby, Jonathan Woetzel, Noshir Kaka, Wonsik Choi, Jeongmin Seong, Brant Carson, and Lily Ma,McKinsey & Company, 12 May 2020

“I guess all to say that we’re all kind of working inside the contexts where we find ourselves. And this one, for the draconian nature of certain measures, they paradoxically allow for the freedom to enter into a public space and look at art.”

As risks abound, continue, and even, arguably, increase, it is crucial to plan and conduct business smartly, in a forward-looking manner, clearly articulating desired outcomes, on the one had, and negative externalities, that are increasingly no longer external, on the other.

UCCA has postponed shows that were on the calendar for this year, “many of which involved intense overseas collaborations and were not going to happen as scheduled.” Yet, learning as early as early March that the museum re-opening would take place on 21 May, the first date also of the re-scheduled Beijing Gallery Week-end, Mr. Tinari and the museum curators realized “that there was no way we could get to May 21 and not have something to show everyone.”

“And so I sat in a room with my curators for about a week. And we came up with an exhibition that we titled “Meditations in an Emergency” after the Frank O’Hara anthology which kind of looks at the post-covid world from five different angles. Everything from the disappearance of everyday routine to the relationship between humans and animals to the proliferation of a sort of de-centered polyphonic or contradictory narrative around news and information.

“It’s a 26-artist group show that’s actually, I don’t mean to brag or anything, but it’s really beautifully installed. And it’s poignant and it’s just wonderful to be back in physical space looking at art with people.”

Zhang Hui, “Just Line in the Mirror 2” (2018, oil on canvas).
Credit: Zhang Hui and UCCA, Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing: “Meditations in an Emergency,” 21 May – 30 August 2020

Thinking forward, Mr. Tinari observes “a certain solemnity to just everyday existence now. People are ready to come. And in a way that’s a very not the worst frame of mind with which to enter into an exhibition.”

What he’s been calling “the new intentionality,” engaging in activities “with a very specific purpose and for a limited duration,” applies, he says, to programming as well. “It’s not that we won’t continue to do big international shows but we’ll do them for specific reasons with kind of very measurable goals in more measured ways.”


Art Basel, “How will the pandemic change institutions?“, YouTube, 22 May 2020

Oliver Tonby, Jonathan Woetzel, Noshir Kaka, Wonsik Choi, Jeongmin Seong, Brant Carson, and Lily Ma, “How technology is safeguarding health and livelihoods in Asia,” McKinsey & Company, 12 May 2020

Zoé Whitley, Star Curator Behind Acclaimed ‘Soul of a Nation’ Show, Named Director of London’s Chisenhale Gallery,” ARTnews, 17 January 2020

UCCA, Center for Contemporary Art, Meditations in an Emergency, 21 May 2020 – 30 August 2020

inflection point? · oil major tears up the industry’s financial playbook

In August 2014 Simon Evans of Carbon Brief, reporting on a white paper, “Fossil fuel divestment: a $5 trillion challenge,” published days earlier by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, noted that “‘fossil fuels are investor favourites for a reason’….fossil fuel investments have a history of strong performance.

BNEF looked at seven alternative trillion-dollar sectors and found that only shares in real estate firms have paid higher dividends in recent years than fossil fuel firms.”

(Simon Evans, “Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy,” Carbon Brief, 27 August 2014)

Fast forward to today. Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, global energy demand in the first quarter of 2020 was 3.8% lower than in the same quarter of 2019. The IEA expects global energy demand for 2020 to decline by 6% year-on-year, a decline not seen for decades.

Annual rate of change in primary energy demand, %, since 1900, with key events impacting demand highlighted. Source: Josh Gabbatiss, “IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis,” Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020; IEA Global Energy Review

The fossil fuel sector, consistently a source of large dividends over the years, is suddenly under market stress and scrutiny from investors.

While “most analysts expected the world’s largest Western super majors … to defend their dividend at almost any cost given how important the payouts are to North American investors” (Kevin Crowley, Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash, Bloomberg, 29 April 2020), Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, shocked the investing world.

Shell both reduced its dividend, the first time it has done so since World War II, for Q1 2020 and, observing that it would be neither “wise” nor “prudent” nor “responsible” to do so, announced it will not follow industry practice of borrowing against its balance sheet to finance the dividend payment.

The Board of Royal Dutch Shell plc (“RDS” or the “Company”) today announced an interim dividend in respect of the first quarter of 2020 of US$ 0.16 per A ordinary share (“A Share”) and B ordinary share (“B Share”), reduced from the US$ 0.47 dividend for the same quarter last year.

The pace and scale of the societal impact of COVID 19 and the resulting deterioration in the macroeconomic and commodity price outlook is unprecedented. The duration of these impacts remains unclear with the expectation that the weaker conditions will likely extend beyond 2020.

“In response, Shell has taken decisive actions to reduce our spending and position our businesses to compete in the current lower commodity price environment and uncertain demand outlook.

“The Board of Royal Dutch Shell has taken the decision to reset its dividend to provide financial resilience and further flexibility to manage the uncertainty. Shell is taking the steps necessary to ensure that we are well-positioned for the eventual economic recovery.

(“Royal Dutch Shell plc first quarter 2020 interim dividend,” 30 April 2020)

Not only did the dividend reduction, coupled with CEO Ben van Beurden’s further announcement that Shell would not take on debt to fund its dividend payment, shock investors, it also “tore up the industry’s playbook.”

When the boss of Royal Dutch Shell Plc slashed his dividend on Thursday, he didn’t just shock investors,” Laura Hurst of Bloomberg commented, “he tore up the industry’s financial playbook.

For decades Big Oil has used the strength of a large balance sheet to borrow money when the going gets tough and keeps investors sweet until the next upward cycle.

As the coronavirus pandemic potentially causes lasting damage to energy demand, Europe’s largest oil company asked whether this strategy is sustainable.

“’I would say no,’ said Shell Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden. ‘It’s also not wise and prudent, nor even responsible, to pay out a dividend if you know for sure you have to borrow for it.‘”

(Laura Hurst, “Shell’s Dividend Cut Shows This Time is Different for Big Oil,” Bloomberg, 30 April 2020)

Norwegian multinational energy company Equinor (OSE:EQNR,NYSE:EQNR; formerly Statoil) announced on 23 April a cash dividend of US$ 0.09 per share for the first quarter 2020, a reduction of 67% compared to the dividend proposed for the fourth quarter 2019.  

On 28 April, BP announced an interim dividend of 10.50 cents per ordinary share for the first quarter of 2020.

Gaurav Sharma, Senior Contributor at Forbes, observing that whilst first quarter profits at BP have decreased by 67% on lack of oil demand and the crude oil price crash, the company “sprung a surprise for the market by maintaining the company’s 10.5 U.S. cents per share dividend payment, hiked by 2.4% as recently as February.”

The move,” Mr. Sharma noted, “will come as a relief to beleaguered U.K. income funds that have seen over $18.6 billion in payouts cancelled or suspended over the last six weeks.

Collectively, HSBC, GSK, Royal Dutch Shell, British American Tobacco and BP accounted for 40% of FTSE 100 dividend payouts in 2019. With BP promising to payout, HSBC holding back following regulatory pressure, GSK, BAT and Shell, which hasn’t failed to pay a dividend since the Second World War II, appear to be in the bag.”

(Gaurav Sharma, “Profits Slump 67% At BP But Oil Major Maintains Dividend Despite Coronavirus Downturn,” Forbes, 28 April 2020)

On 29 April, Exxon Mobil Corp., based in Irving, Texas and the largest oil company in the Western Hemisphere, announced that for the second quarter 2020 it will pay a dividend of 87 cents per share. This is the same amount that was paid per share for the first quarter of 2020.

For the first time in 13 years, ExxonMobil “froze” its second quarter dividend to the amount paid in the first quarter.

Kevin Crowley of Bloomberg notes “Before now, Exxon had an uninterrupted streak of April increases going back to 2007.”

Most analysts expected the world’s largest Western super majors, including Exxon, to defend their dividend at almost any cost given how important the payouts are to North American investors. Before today, Exxon was the third-largest dividend payer in the S&P 500 Index behind Microsoft Corp. and AT&T Inc., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

The freeze may not derail Exxon’s multi decade streak of annual increases,” Mr. Crowley continues. “Even if the company maintains quarterly payouts at the current level for the rest of 2020, the annual outlay will be $3.48 a share, or 1.5% above 2019.

“’It’s definitely a sign of the times and to be expected given the price environment,’ said Jennifer Rowland, an analyst at Edward D. Jones &Co. The payout is “secure” because the company has capacity to take on debt to fund it, she said. On an annualized basis, the dividend will cost Exxon almost $15 billion this year.”

(Kevin Crowley, Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash, Bloomberg, 29 April 2020)


Josh Gabbatiss, “IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis,” Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020

First Quarter 2020 Interim Dividend,” Royal Dutch Shell Plc, 30 April 2020

Laura Hurst, “Shell’s Dividend Cut Shows This Time is Different for Big Oil, ” Bloomberg, 30 April 2020

Dividend Information, ExxonMobil dividends per common share,” Exxon Mobil, 29 April 2020

Kevin Crowley, “Exxon Freezes Dividend for First Time in 13 years Amid Crash,” Bloomberg, 29 April 2020

BPp.l.c. Group results, First quarter 2020“, 28 April 2020

Gaurav Sharma, “Profits Slump 67% At BP But Oil Major Maintains DividendDespite Coronavirus Downturn,” Forbes, 28 April 2020

Equinor reducing quarterly cash dividend for first quarter 2020 by 67%,” Equinor, 23 April 2020

Mikael Holter, “Norway Oil Giant Slashes Dividend to Weather Oil-Market Crash,” Bloomberg, 23 April 2020

Financial Times, “Shell dividend cut puts Big Oil investment case in focus” 

Simon Evans, “Why fossil fuel divestment won’t be easy,” Carbon Brief, 27 August 2014

Nathaniel Bullard, “Fossil fuel divestment: a $5 trillion challenge,” White Paper, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, 25 August 2014

IEA: Coronavirus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis

IEA: Corona virus impact on CO2 emissions six times larger than 2008 financial crisis

Written by Josh Gabbatiss. Published on Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020.

The world’s CO2 emissions are expected to fall by 8% this year as the coronavirus pandemic shuts down much of the global economy, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Such a drop would be the largest ever recorded in terms of tonnes of CO2, some six times greater than the impact of the 2008 financial crisis.

The agency’s new Global Energy Review is based on extensive data from the year so far and is intended to provide close to a real-time estimate of energy usage and emissions.

Its projections for the whole of 2020 are based on a series of assumptions including that the lockdowns, curfews and closure of schools and businesses currently in place are gradually eased over the coming months.

However, as the pandemic spreads and its devastating impacts continue to unfold, the agency makes clear that there are still “major uncertainties” about how it will play out.

The IEA’s central figure of 8% is even higher than previous estimates, including analysis conducted by Carbon Brief and published earlier this month, which was based on a less comprehensive dataset and less recent data.

An 8% cut is roughly equivalent to the annual emissions reductions needed to limit warming to less than 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures. However, the stretch target laid out in the Paris Agreement would require similar reductions every year this decade.

The agency is clear that the expected decline in emissions due to a pandemic is “absolutely nothing to cheer”. Moreover, it emphasises the importance of prioritising clean energy in economic recovery plans in order to avoid a sharp rebound in emissions.

Unprecedented shock

Describing the pandemic as a “a macroeconomic shock that is unprecedented in peacetime”, the IEA draws comparisons with the impact that wars and other recent crises have had on the global energy system. Some of these events can be seen in the figure below.

The report compares the covid-19 pandemic with the last financial crisis, when growth in China and India “was able to largely offset reductions elsewhere”. This time around, both nations are also feeling the effects of the disease and such an offset is unlikely.

Global energy-related emissions (top) and annual change (bottom) in GtCO2, with projected 2020 levels highlighted in red. Other major events are indicated to a give a sense of scale. Source: IEA Global Energy Review.

As it spreads to virtually every nation on the planet, the impact of coronavirus is being felt in all walks of life, but different sectors are being affected in very different ways.

Energy use for residential gas heating or electricity use for server farms and digital equipment may even show a significant increase in the coming months, the IEA says, whereas other sectors such as aviation have collapsed.

Global energy demand was 3.8% lower in the first quarter of 2020 than last year, the IEA says, and it expects the annual total to drop by 6% year-on-year in 2020. 

Such a decline has not been seen for decades, as the chart below shows, and will effectively wipe out five years of demand growth.

Annual rate of change in primary energy demand, %, since 1900, with key events impacting demand highlighted. Source: IEA Global Energy Review.

CO2 emissions are expected to fall to 30.6bn tonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) this year, an 8% drop from last year, with declining coal use the most significant factor.

The drop in coal combustion is being driven mainly by the power sector, the IEA says, together with competition from cheap natural gas and industrial slowdown. Coal demand is expected to fall 8%, but as China’s industrial sector starts up again, it is expected to go some way to offsetting larger declines.

Demand (left) and annual change in demand (right) for the total quantity of coal used globally (dark) and coal in the power sector alone (light), measured in million tonnes of coal equivalent (Mtce). The change in demand for the first quarter of 2020 (Q1) is shown in red while the projection for the full year is shown in pink. Source: IEA Global Energy Review

Due to the global lockdown’s impact on transport, illustrated in the charts below, demand for oil has fallen at an “unprecedented scale” in the first four months of the year.

Change in road transport activity and flight numbers as a % in 2020 so far compared to the previous year, for selected countries (solid lines) and the whole world (dashed line). Source: IEA Global Energy Review

This is particularly true for fuels used in passenger transport, namely petrol and kerosene. Meanwhile demand for diesel, a substantial portion of which is used to power vehicles that transport goods, is expected to remain stronger. Overall, oil demand is expected to drop by 9% across the year after a 29% drop in the month of April.

As a side-effect of declining transport activity, car sales are expected to decline. In March, EU sales were 55% lower than 2019 levels, and if this trend plays out in nations with fuel economy standards in place, improvements in energy efficiency will be slower, the IEA notes.

Gas demand is expected to fall less than oil or coal as it is less vulnerable to changes in transportation demand, although the IEA says it could still fall by 5%. Gas will be particularly susceptible if countries in the Middle East and North Africa enter long lockdowns, the agency says, due to their reliance on the fuel for power.

In general, nuclear power is expected to fare better than fossil fuels, with lockdowns expected to reduce global output by 3% due to falling demand and disrupted construction. Already, delays have been announced to projects in China and Finland, and more are expected in the UK, US and France.

As the figure below shows, lockdowns in recent months have pushed down electricity demand significantly, with the strongest impacts found in nations with service-based economies and the strictest lockdowns, such as Italy.

Weather-corrected change in electricity demand, %, in selected countries implementing full (solid lines) or partial lockdowns (dashed lines), by number of days since their lockdowns began. Source: IEA Global Energy Review

It is worth noting that as pointed out in Carbon Brief’s recent analysis, it is difficult to assign effects specifically to coronavirus as many other factors will influence energy demand and emissions over the course of the year.

As an example, the IEA points to “milder than average” weather throughout most of the northern hemisphere in the first quarter of the year, which played a part in pushing down energy demand due to less gas being used for heating.

Renewables ascend

As fossil fuel use sank in the first few months of 2020, renewables remained stable, as in general they are given priority access to electricity grids and are not required to adjust their output based on demand. 

Combined with rising capacity as new wind and solar facilities are built, this means that renewable electricity generation rose by almost 3% in the first quarter of the year.

As a result, renewables achieved record-high hourly shares in Belgium, Italy, Germany, Hungary and parts of the US. Analysis just published by Carbon Brief shows a similar trend, with wind and solar reaching a record-high share of generation across Europe over the past 30 days.

These records reflect a rising renewable share of the electricity mix of countries around the world – where demand has declined during lockdowns – as shown in the chart, below.

Changes in the electricity mixes of key emitters in 2020 so far, with the implementation of lockdown strategies indicated by grey shading. Source: IEAGlobal Energy Review

In fact, renewables are also the only energy sources expected to grow this year “regardless of the length of lockdown or strength of recovery”, the report states. This can be seen in the figure below.

Projected % change in primary energy demand by fuel type in 2020 compared to the previous year, with renewables (green) showing the only positive change. Source: IEA Global Energy Review

The chart below shows how a pandemic recovery, in which restrictions are gradually loosened over the course of the year, is expected to push low-carbon electricity sources to 40% of power generation in 2020, extending the slight lead on coal achieved last year. This would be the highest level on record, albeit due in part to a 5% dip in total electricity demand.

Global generation % shares from coal (red line) and low-carbon sources (shaded area), including nuclear (yellow) and all renewables (different shades of green). Source: IEA Global Energy Review

New projects coming online this year are expected to increase wind and solar’s share of global electricity generation up to 9%, twice as high as levels seen just five years ago.

The IEA estimates total renewable energy use, including for heat and transport, will rise by about 1% in 2020, and there will still be an increase even if economic recovery is slow. 

However, despite being more resilient than other industries, the renewable sector has still faced challenges. The end of 2020 marks an important deadline for new wind projects in the US and China to receive tax credits and subsidies, but progress on these projects is now highly uncertain.

In a recent blog post, IEA analyst Heymi Bahar writes that what was meant to be “an outstanding year for renewables” has been hindered by supply chain and labour disruptions linked to the pandemic.

Wind turbine manufacture has been hit particularly hard due to a very global supply chain compared with solar panels, which are largely manufactured in China.

Methods and discrepancies

When Carbon Brief attempted to calculate a figure for total CO2 emissions decline this year due to coronavirus, it reached a slightly more modest figure of  5.5%, compared to the IEA’s 8%.

This analysis was based on five key datasets that cover roughly three-quarters of the world’s annual CO2 emissions, with the expectation that the elements not covered would have added to the final total.

The IEA has access to a much larger array of detailed information, and its analysis was based on data available up until mid-April including country submissions to the IEA, other statistical releases from national administrations and estimates by the agency itself when official data was missing.

Published on Carbon Brief, 30 April 2020, under a CC license. Unadapted material may be reproduced in full for non-commercial use, credited ‘Carbon Brief’ with a link to the article.

Art Basel to Offer Online Viewing Rooms

As latent risks emerge, industry, business, and individuals adapt. Opportunities, and benefits, are discovered in and developed from such adaptation. Opportunities and benefits are discovered also in forward-looking mitigation.

Inaugurated in 1970 by Basel gallerists Ernst Beyeler, Trudi Bruckner and Balz Hilt, owned and managed by Switzerland-based MCH Group, art fair giant Art Basel, facing health, travel, and concomitant business risks posed by the emergent Covid-19 virus, cancelled Art Basel Hong Kong 2020.

The Art Basel fairs, offered in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong, have succeeded as an effective venue for introducing galleries, works of art, and collectors to each other.

The fairs, while offering face-to-face interactions, are, however, premised on travel, often long-distance. The fairs are premised further on the gathering of large numbers of people together in one place at one time.

The travel and costs (staff, booth rentals, insurance, hotels and lodging, shipping of works of art, …) involved with the fair – and the many art fairs that have developed over the years – are expensive for galleries and collectors alike.

The travel, further, can increase risk. Combustion of hydrocarbon-based fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Carbon dioxide molecules are precisely calibrated to attract and retain, in our atmosphere, photons of thermal energy that reach the earth from the sun. (See infographic.) Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere leads therefore to greater thermal energy (heat) in the atmosphere.

Acidification of the oceans, that themselvesabsorb about 30% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, also takes place.

Increased atmospheric heat leads to consequences such as melting of arctic permafrost, melting of glaciers, sea level rise, fires, storms, the release of pathogens and concomitant health risks. (See infographic developed by Zurich-based reinsurance giant Swiss Re.)

 With regard to large numbers of people gathering together in one place at one time, this currently may pose a risk of transmission of the emergent coronavirus (COVID-19).

To reduce such risk, the Swiss Federal Council, on 28 February 2020, issued an ordinance forbidding the holding of public or private events in Switzerland where more than 1,000 people are present at the same time.

MCH Group has, accordingly, not only cancelled Art Basel Hong Kong 2020 but has also postponed further events and trade shows such as the Baselworld Watch and Jewellery Show 2020 (until January-February 2021), the garden exhibition Giardina in Zurich, and Habitat-Jardin in Lausanne.

Fortunately there are means of bringing galleries, works of art, and collectors together that are premised neither on long-distance travel nor on the gathering in one place of multitudes of people.

Art Basel has been developing such a means, an initiative that, as “the art market continues to evolve, exemplifies its longstanding commitment to fostering a healthy art world ecosystem by creating new ways for its galleries to reach collectors from across the globe.”

The initiative is a digital-only platform for Art Basel’s galleries and collectors. The inaugural edition of Art Basel’s Online Viewing Rooms are planned to go live on 20 March 2020.

“Online Viewing Rooms will give visitors the opportunity to browse thousands of artworks presented by Art Basel participating galleries, many of which will be online exclusives. The exhibiting gallery can then be contacted directly for sales inquiries. The Viewing Rooms will run in parallel to the three shows in Basel, Miami Beach, and Hong Kong.”

Art Basel to launch Online Viewing Rooms,” Art Basel

While recognizing “’the essential personal interactions that continue to underlie the  art market,’” Art Basel Global Director Marc Spiegler notes that “’the Online Viewing Rooms will provide galleries with a further possibility for engaging with our global audiences.'”

All the galleries that were accepted for the cancelled 2020 Art Basel Hong Kong have been invited to participate, at no cost, in the launch of the Online Viewing Rooms.

Art Basel is not the first to organization to provide a means for galleries, works of art, and collectors to meet online. New York-based Artsy has been doing so for several years.

The process of selecting works of art, acquiring them, and developing a collection requires intent, effort, patience, and work. Such work is conducted in increments over a long-term.

Relationships of mutual trust and reliance, between collectors, galleries, and dealers, some private, are developed.

Qualifications of all parties are established. Buyers and sellers alike vet each other for acknowledgement and understanding of contract law as well as willingness to agree and adhere to contractual terms.

As works of art are identified for purchase, high-resolution images taken from multiple angles can be shared. Condition reports, provenance, and valuations provided.

The process enables collectors to learn and value not only the aesthetic, historical, and, increasingly, financial qualities of such works of art but also the supply chain logistics.

Supply chain logistics are themselves complex, often crossing cultures, history, collections, sovereign entities such as cities, states, and nations, and laws.

Supply chain logistics and the logistics of collections management evolving to include collaborations not only with art professionals but also with those with in a variety of industries. These industries include science, tech, law, engineering, energy, water, design, architecture, finance, and, insurance.

Insurance especially in a new iteration: in regard to transparent, data-driven identification of risk together with public/private collaborations structured to foster preemptive mitigation of risk.


Art Basel to launch Online Viewing Rooms,” Art Basel

Anny Shaw, “MCH Group postpones Baselworld watch fair as Swiss authorities ban large events over coronavirus fears,” The Art Newspaper, 28 February2020

Christian Jecker, “MCH Group postpones forthcoming events,” MCH Group Media Release, 28 February 2020

Carbon Dioxide Absorbs and Re-Emits Infrared Radiation,” UCAR Center for Science Education

Swiss Re, “Special Feature: It’s existential – climate change and life & health,” 22 May 2019

NOAA, “Ocean Acidification

Acknowledging risk, Sotheby’s revises 2020 Hong Kong Spring Sale

“Monitoring the impact of the Covid-19 virus and the resulting travel restrictions” – in effect acknowledging, and attempting to manage, the health, travel, and business risks that the coronavirus poses – Sotheby’s has revised its 2020 Hong Kong Spring Sale.

The Modern Art Evening Sale, the Contemporary Art Evening Sale, and the Contemporary Art Day Sale will take place in New York on 16 April.

Further 2020 Hong Kong Spring sales have been re-scheduled from April to July. The plan is that they will take place in Hong Kong.

The revised schedule can be found here: “Revised Schedule For Sotheby’s Hong Kong 2020 Spring Auction Series Announced.”

Sotheby’s publishes a message from Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby’s Asia:

“We have been closely monitoring the impact of the Covid-19 virus and the resulting travel restrictions.

“After careful consideration and reflection on nearly 50 years of working with our clients in Asia, we have made the strategic decision to continue to hold our major Modern and Contemporary Art auctions in April but relocate them to New York and to postpone the balance of our spring auctions to early July in Hong Kong.

“April in New York represents the best possible venue and timing for our consignors of Modern and Contemporary art. We have scheduled these sales at times that will make it easy for our clients in Asia to participate and our global team stands ready to activate the international market for the great works of art we have assembled.

“Similarly, given the nature of the property and collectors in our other categories, we have decided to postpone those auctions until early July when we can safely hold a traveling exhibition across Asia and present our sale week in Hong Kong.”

Kevin Ching, CEO, Sotheby’s Asia


Revised Schedule for Sotheby’s Hong Kong Spring Auction Series Announced,” Sotheby’s, 24 February 2020

Revised Schedule For Sotheby’s Hong Kong 2020 Spring Auction Series Announced” and “Sale Calendar,” Sotheby’s

is sexy really a measure?

With Art Basel Hong Kong 2020 cancelled, art institutions and openings in China delayed, important spring art auctions in New York postponed, New York’s Art Week 2020 postponed, private museums closing, travel impeded by the COVID-19 virus, wildfires raging in Australia, and floods in Venice, we may rightly ask what the heck is going on.

Henry Moore: Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 5

Behaviors and institutions that we may have taken for granted – art fairs, travel, museums, museum openings, art loans, traveling exhibitions, gallery openings, the buildings that house works and collections of art, cities, heritage – show themselves as vulnerable.

Vulnerable to various risks – geopolitical, natural (flood, fire), illness, travel (viruses are clever particles, requiring host cells in order to replicate; when host cells travel, so do viruses), funding, disengagement, generational change, wrongdoing, and “art-washing” among them.

In a country where there has always been more space than people, where the land and wildlife are cherished like a Picasso, nature is closing in. Fueled by climate change and the world’s refusal to address it, the fires that have burned across Australia … are forcing Australians to imagine an entirely new way of life.”

(Damien Cave and Matthew Abbot writing in The New York Times, The End of Australia as We Know It, 15 February 2020)

Buildings are deteriorating faster than ever before. It’s indicative of the changing environment and climate.”

Syfur Rahman, Department of Archeology of Bangladesh, quoted in
Heritage on the Edge, How people around the world are protecting their cultural sites against climate change,”
Google Arts & Culture in collaboration with CyArt and ICOMOS

Our shared history is at risk”

(“Heritage on the Edge, How people around the world are protecting their cultural sites against climate change,” Google Arts & Culture in collaboration with CyArt and ICOMOS)

The thousand-year equilibrium long maintained in Venice may, in the space of a century, have been destroyed. With little regard for the safeguards balance provides, risks of flooding, loss of habitats, and loss of livelihoods are increasing.

Venice is “a city that for over a thousand years has built a wonderful equilibrium between a human component, ecological component, art, nature. And in the last century, we have basically almost destroyed that balance.”

(Shaul Bassi, director of the Center for Humanities and Social Change at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, quoted in Sylvia Poggioli, “With Waters Rising And Its Population Falling, What Is Venice’s Future?”, NPR, 30 November 2019).

In the face of protests, coronavirus, and the cancellation of Art Basel Hong Kong 2020, Tim Schneider of Artnet News asks

Did the coronavirus merely provide a politically agnostic opportunity to call off an event that many Western exhibitors alleged had already lost viability after the ongoing pro-democracy protests convinced a significant number of their buyers and artists to opt out months earlier? 

“And if so, did the organization take until February 6 to decide strictly because its international galleries were facing shipping deadlines? Or was something else entirely at work?”

He suggests that

“To decipher the answers, it turns out that we may have to look in what many, if not most, people view as the single unsexiest realm of arcana in the entire art market: insurance policies.”

(Tim Schneider, “The Gray Market: Why the Coronavirus Canceled Art Basel Hong Kong When the Protests Couldn’t (and Other Insights),” Artnet News, 10 February 2010)

Is sexy really a measure? Is insurance so arcane?

Let’s for a moment look at insurance, and risk, from another angle: able to track perils in real time, Swiss Re is changing the way it understands and models risk. Assessing risk and underwriting risk using real-time data rather than past data, Swiss Re will offer insurance products structured not only as ex ante compensation products but also as anticipative risk management services.

“With new insights from an ability to track perils in real time, we are able to change the way we model and understand risk. This will allow new means of risk assessment and underwriting, augmenting our traditional process of using past data. These shifts will see the nature of insurance products begin to change from ex ante compensation packages to anticipative risk management services.”

(“Underwriting: The Next Generation,” Edi Schmid, Chairman Swiss Re Institute and Group Chief Underwriting Officer, 30 April 2019)

Real value may be developed through collaboration with stakeholders, public and private, globally, together with expertise and capital offered by organizations such as Swiss Re.

What are forward-looking modeling and understanding of risk? What might a shift from ex ante compensation packages to the provision of anticipative risk management services enable?

How might long-term value be developed while using real-time data to anticipate and manage risk?

Let us work to better understand risk and risk management. We might then position ourselves to better enable long-term protections of works and collections of art together with the heritage, information, and value they represent.


Virus,” Science Daily

Underwriting: The Next Generation,” Edi Schmid, Chairman Swiss Re Institute and Group Chief Underwriting Officer, 30 April 2019,

Damien Cave and Matthew Abbott, “The End of Australia as We Know It,” The New York Times, 15 February 2020

Georgina Adam, “Not here to stay: what makes private art museums suddenly close,” The Art Newspaper, 13 February 2020

Elizabeth A. Harris, “As Virus Tightens Grip on China, the Art World Feels the Squeeze,” The New York Times, 13 February 2020

You Want to Pull Your Hair Out’: Artists and Gallerists Respond to the Long-Awaited Cancellation of Art Basel Hong Kong,” Ysabelle Cheung, Artnet News, 7 February 2020

Tim Schneider, “The Gray Market: Why the Coronavirus Canceled Art Basel Hong Kong When the Protests Couldn’t (and Other Insights),” Artnet News, 10 February 2020

Alexander Walter, “Opening of Tadao Ando’s He Art Museum in China delayed due to coronavirus fears,” Archinect, 3 February 2020

Heritage on the Edge, How people around the world are protecting their cultural sites against climate change,” Google Arts & Culture in collaboration with CyArt and ICOMOS

Sylvia Poggioli, “With Waters Rising And Its Population Falling, What Is Venice’s Future?”, NPR, 30 November 2019

Image: Henry Moore’s “Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 5” (bronze, 1963-1964) overlooking the Øresund at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark. Donated to the museum by the Ny Carlsbergfondat.


it’s your money, your life, your health | olive oil

For years I’ve cooked with olive oil, dipped bread in olive oil, “drizzled” olive oil onto asparagus, and enjoyed olive oil infused with garlic or rosemary. More recently I’ve begun to use (what is labeled as organic, extra virgin) olive oil as a moisturizer. For use on my face I’ll even squeeze a few drops of juice from an organic lime into the olive oil.

So, what is olive oil and what is its story? Why is olive oil said to be so conducive to good health? This, I am learning, is a long, robust, multi-faceted, and global story with many players, a story that we will examine in small steps.

It is helpful to remember why, in the first place, we “eat.”

We are all sophisticated systems of systems and systems of players, finely evolved, precisely calibrated to the relationships between ourselves and our environments.

Through eating we bring chemical compounds of biological origin (and increasingly, in some cases, of synthetic origin) into our systems and ultimately into our blood (a finely tuned transport system) and from our blood into our cells (of which we each have billions and billions, chugging away and doing their work, each cell precisely calibrated to its particular environment and task) so that they can do their work.

Through breathing we bring atmospheric chemical elements and compounds, such as oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen, into our lungs, and from our lungs into our blood and from our blood into our cells.

Some of the compounds ingested through our food and breathed in through our air interact to better effect with our cells, some less so, towards the optimal performance of the systems of systems and systems of players that we all are, each individually.

Fortunately, nature’s wizardry has evolved a sense of “taste.” Much of the food that contains the chemical compounds that are beneficial to our cells tastes good. We enjoy eating it. Some of the food, however, that tastes good does not lead to optimal performance. In today’s world it is important to consult our taste buds and the label and do our due diligence.

An observation published in an earlier post, about risk and the system of systems that is the built environment, is pertinent:

“You owe it to yourself to call on every dispassionate expert you can find and grab all available data on any risk you are taking on.”

You’re Buying a Home? Have You Considered Climate Change?”, Ron Lieber, The New York Times, 2 December 2016

Determine your goals, identify pathways towards them, identify risks, “grab” data, proceed with your due diligence, and eat (and breathe, another story) well.

As we proceed along our journey of exploration and learning we’ll investigate and discuss olives and olive oil. Come future posts we’ll examine a variety of foods including peanuts, peanut butter, coffee (a bean), blueberries, and grapes.


You’re Buying a Home? Have You Considered Climate Change?”, Ron Lieber, The New York Times, 2 December 2016


A Tesla of Real Estate Development

Perch Harlem is a style-intensive newly-constructed market-rate rental building at 542 West 153rd Street in Manhattan that uses 90% less gas and energy than a traditional building.

One of the goals we had was to build this at market rate, so that we could prove it could be done,” says Justin Palmer, founder of Synapse Development Group. “We really look to a design company like Tesla for a lot of inspiration, because everyone was a naysayer. The traditional car manufacturers told them, nobody will ever buy it, you don’t have enough range, it can’t be done. Well, we heard it all, too.”

Developed by Synapse Development Group with Taurus Investment Holdings and designed by Brooklyn-based architect Chris Benedict who builds to passive standards at no extra cost, Perch features triple insulation, windows strategically placed and sized to maximize natural solar heat, and high-tech heat exchangers that recycle air to heat and cool its interior.

Using using innovative construction methodologies, like Passive House, that have direct, tangible benefits for our investors, tenants, and the environment, [the Synapse Development Group] approach is laser focused: reduce energy consumption in our buildings while still maintaining the amenities of 21st century living. Through relentless innovation, we bring the latest technology and design practices to what we build.”

Far from compromising the “direct bottom line,” placing environmental interests alongside the interests of investors and tenants makes sense observes Justin Palmer, founder of Synapse Development Group, and provides the development industry a better paradigm for evaluating and leveraging risk and profit.

Building passive is necessary for a changing climate, both figuratively and literally, he says, and the energy cost-savings are a win-win scenario for developers and tenants. “We’re trying to provide a solution to the high carbon footprint that most cities have from the built environment, as well as solve the ongoing affordability issue through intelligent design,” Palmer says, and through reliable energy-performance metrics, “provide better risk-adjusted returns to our investment partners.”


Meet the Developer Who Wants To Be the Tesla of Housing” | Aileen Kwun, FastCoDesign, 12 March 2018

Synapse Development Group

#realestate #realestatedevelopment  #luxuryrealestate #builtenvironment #Tesla #passivhaus #passivedesign #architecture #design #innovation #tech #energy #luxury #risk #return #CO2

art, real estate, luxury, & global risks

“Humanity has become remarkably adept at understanding how to mitigate conventional risks that can be relatively easily isolated and managed with standard risk-management approaches. But we are much less competent when it comes to dealing with complex risks in the interconnected systems that underpin our world, such as organizations, economies, societies and the environment.

“There are signs of strain in many of these systems: our accelerating pace of change is testing the absorptive capacities of institutions, communities and individuals.

“When risk cascades through a complex system, the danger is not of incremental damage but of “runaway collapse” or an abrupt transition to a new, suboptimal status quo.”

See: “The Global Risks Report 2018, 13th Edition” | World Economic Forum (WEF); Strategic Partners: Marsh & McLennan Companies, Zurich Insurance Company; Academic Advisors: National University of Singapore, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, University of Pennsylvania

#art #artmarket #collectionsmanagement #data #analytics #risk #riskanalysis #riskmanagement #riskmitigation #climaterisk #insurance #insurancerisk #realestate #commercialrealestate #culturalrealestate  #culturalheritage #luxury #resilience #CO2

Paris floods | the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, & the Musée de l’Orangerie launch their Plans de Protection Contre les Inondations (PPCI)

The Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Musée de l’Orangerie have each launched their Plan de Protection Contre les Inondations (PPCI; protection plan against flooding). The Musée du Louvre has closed the lower level of its department of Islamic Arts until Sunday (28 January) as a “preventive measure” from flood damage.”

See: “Rising River Seine causes closure at Musée du Louvre” | Anna Sansom, The Art Newspaper, 25 January 2018

#Louvre #MuséeduLouvre #Muséed’Orsay #Muséedel’Orangerie #art #artcollections #collectionsmanagement #risk #riskmanagement #Paris #flooding #PPCI #PlandeProtectionContrelesInondations #museums #resilience #luxury #smartluxury #CO2 #realestate #culturalrealestate #design #engineering