Art market: forecasts for 2021

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that there is no predictable year. But while we’re all trying to make sense of a changing world, here’s a look at how the art market’s slowing sales, fairs drought and massive online movement will unfold over the next 12 coming months.

Art market sales in 2020 appear to have fallen by at least a third across the sector, with galleries bearing the brunt. The key to 2021 will be whether art fairs rebound. In 2019, these high-octane temporary events averaged 45% of gallery sales. Come 2020, they have been decimated.

Predicting when these global gatherings will return is a Sisyphean task – they seem to be permanently around six months away. Some, like Art Dubai, are sticking to their knitting and planning to open in their usual March slot. The most popular time for a return comes a bit later in the spring, with postponed Art Basel Hong Kong and Tefaf Maastricht kicking off the calendar in May.

Both show organizers have offered digital alternatives in 2020 with online viewing rooms, but it seems telling that this is not the preferred route for the new year. While these vastly improved websites will continue to support such events and have been better than nothing in 2020, they have run their course in their current forms.

VIP opening of Frieze Los Angeles in February © Casey Kelbaugh

The question is whether spring is too early for a full-scale fair – and my prediction is that it is. It’s still unclear how and when the vaccines will be rolled out and it seems unlikely to me that we’ll all be jumping on planes once a week by then, if ever. There is a valid opinion that fairs simply will not return as they were, having already proved too time-consuming and expensive for many even before the pandemic. As in other industries, most of the art market is working from home, or at least from our hometowns, and we have found other ways to do business.

Collectors say the time not to rush has helped them to deepen their knowledge of art and appreciate it more when they see works in person, while gallery owners have had the free space to think about more strategically to their businesses and the shows they wish to organize. . And we all helped the planet get started.

But dealers need to sell art, and living artists in particular need them to, too. Trade show organizers who have understood that there is a space between the two poles of a major event and a website have understood something. In 2020, shows such as Copenhagen’s Chart and Nada Miami experimented with a multi-site approach, under the umbrella of their brands. These are still temporary exhibitions, so they may generate excitement and the possibility of affiliated events, but are hosted by the individual galleries in their respective cities.

Among the fairs already engaged in this format in 2021, we should mention the Brafa pre-contemporary art fair, which is normally held in Brussels but which this year sees its 126 exhibitors present themselves individually in 37 cities (previews from 27 January). His website will be a fallback resource with all of the works offered in one place. Frieze Los Angeles is planning a similar approach in July when it expands galleries across architecturally significant buildings — though the logistics of moving to Los Angeles in the height of summer may make selling more difficult.

Work by Sif Itona Westerberg at Gether Contemporary in Denmark © Niklas Vindelev

Locally, it will become difficult to tell the difference between such events and existing gallery weekends or art weeks, but the lines have been blurring for some time in all areas of the art market. and it will be a case of survival of the fittest. Salons will only have to prove that their brands, networks and organizational strengths add up, which seems plausible at this point.

Auction houses seemed to adapt more easily to virtual business in 2020, but their management also recognizes that it’s real, event-based sales that really bring in the goods. I would expect a lot more auctions to be conducted online and via new live streaming technology than in 2019, not least because management has invested heavily in some high-tech solutions. But where possible, and certainly for higher value items, auction houses will try to bring the excitement back in person. “We don’t want a future where everything in the art market is online,” says Guillaume Cerutti, chief executive of Christie’s.

On activity, optimists say supply will return, in part because discretionary sellers have already been dormant for most of the year – although pessimists fear there will be more sellers forced, driving down values ​​and undermining market confidence.

The opening of Frieze Los Angeles at Paramount Pictures Studios, Hollywood © Casey Kelbaugh

Some decent send-ups are already in the bag, remember – Christie’s has three large surrealist paintings to give away in March with a combined estimate of £32m. Moreover, putting aside the thorny issue of Brexit and its many unknowns, the global political uncertainties impacting the art market are generally reduced in 2021, now that the divisive US election is almost over. .

Cerutti notes that the move online has attracted a new generation of buyers. At the time of writing, Christie’s reported that 40% of its buyers had entered service since March 2020, of which 32% were millennials. Buyers in Asia have been particularly active and here too it is a younger generation, buying between $50,000 and $500,000.

Most of them came to the art market via luxury goods, says Ben Clark of art consultant Gurr Johns, another area that will continue to grow in the world of fine art. In my view, the stumbling block in Asia remains China’s growing repression of freedoms, including now in Hong Kong, although on this front I would expect the art market to continue to shut down short-term eyes.

There has been considerable noise about the disruption of the art market forced by the pandemic. Hopefully some of the more inventive collaborations will continue. Initiatives such as augmented and virtual realities will continue to test appetites, while existing non-industrial platforms such as Instagram will keep discovery alive.

There are some great ideas on the slate – including a fair and auction event via a new platform called South South – but it will be some time before any feel-good factor really takes hold. . This will prove to be more of a year of rehabilitation than a meteoric recovery.

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