The Global Art Market: Painting the Post-Pandemic Picture

What’s Next for the Global Art Market Landscape?

Thanks to the Covid-19 crisis, the global art market has had to reinvent how it engages with clients, promotes artists and, ultimately, sells works. Fairs and galleries, so often powered by in-person exchanges, personalities and in-the-moment purchases have promoted their existing online solutions – always a part of their marketing mix – to the front and centre.

Incoming Trends

Hookson values its art-industry clients. From galleries and schools to dealers, auctioneers and artists themselves, we’ve worked alongside the art sector for many years. So in this blog we’ll look at potentially incoming trends, and at how the broad industry might be selling its masterpieces and marketing its talents across 2021.

Will Digital-First Become the New Normal?

Prior to the pandemic, the global art market enjoyed a balanced relationship with digital marketing. Almost every gallery and fair, foundation and auction had, of course, the online presence you’d expect: very decent websites alongside curated and active social media channels.

Digital Creep

But broadly speaking these were accompaniments to tradition. They bolstered physical sales and exhibitions. Whet the appetite for opulent expos and big-ticket fairs held in serious cities.

Sure, spurred by the regular leaps in technology, a complementing move to digital crept in. It was seen in apps and innovations like the connective Artsy, busy uniting artists, art-lovers and galleries. There, also, was the funding platform Patreon, tastefully enabling supporters and patrons to fund work often created by up-and-coming artists . But it was gradual evolution, not a galloping revolution.

Accelerating Change

Then, for the worst-possible reasons, 2020 accelerated change. Online-only sales flourished as gallery owners and those in the business of selling art embraced virtual exhibitions and studio visits, app-led discussion forums and online bidding.

Crucially, art buyers responded to the convenience and flexibility. In fact, in pandemic-era December 2020, Phillips, the international auction house, put the hammer down on its biggest-ever sale: a cool $134.5 million realised at its New York City saleroom.

Will Clicks Beat Bricks?

So, with both sellers and buyers proving the concept, it’s a reasonable guess that a change will occur – that a digital-first default may well take the lead, and that clicks will continue winning-out over bricks and mega-gatherings.

Art buyers have embraced digital solutions and ensured the market has remained healthy and vibrant.

With art buyers responding to digital’s convenience and flexibility, a digital-first default may well take the lead in the global art market.

Could the Auction House Rise Even Higher?

As evidenced by the success of that Phillips sale, it’s a decent bet that the digitally-driven auction house, as opposed to the physical gallery and fair, will rise in prominence and importance. Throughout 2020, and into 2021, galleries and individual artists strengthened ties with auctioneers, acknowledging the importance of bringing their works to expert sellers already set up for online sales.

At Hookson, we’ve seen first-hand the benefits online bidding platforms like Invaluable have brought our clients including the art auctioneers Toomey & Co, Gorringe’s and Tajan.

Online Auctions: a Bigger Canvas

Purpose-built applications like Invaluable garner bids from across the world, significantly widening reach and opportunity for smart art outfits. Of course, in 2020, the need for social distancing made the online auction the only show in town. But even in a post-Covid market the platform-powered auction house will grow in uptake and importance.

Want to know a secret? The truth is, remote bidding has been a fixture for decades. Pre-internet it was exclusively conducted via telephone. So it’s perhaps not so surprising that the flexibility and convenience this new iteration has brought is here to stay – and blossom.

Large Art Fairs: a Thing of the Past?

Relevant to the availability and take-up of digital solutions, the pandemic has imposed new thinking around the role and sustainability of large art fairs like Art Dubai; Frieze, the contemporary art fairs held in London and New York; and the elegant Venice Biennale.

These events and others celebrate art and artists and, to be blunt, connect creators with buyers. Important to the world art scene? Of course. But they’re huge undertakings. Fed by global travel and reliant on resource-intensive services like logistics, accommodation and security.

By nature they’re arenas for close contact too: hugs and handshakes, backslaps and air-kisses. In an era of pandemic, suddenly these gatherings seem so far from where we are now.

A Future Reimagined

For an indication of what might befall these affairs, look to the Glastonbury Festival. Already cancelled for 2021, will it be a shock to see large arts events extend their pause too? Right now, it’d be a surprise for such occasions to be greenlit. So perhaps there will occur a review of the several annual pow-wows to which the art world’s movers and shakers must fly.

We’re betting on a future characterised by a mix of the digital and the physical. The Phygital. Maybe fewer fairs occurring in the calendar. Perhaps multiple events happening at the same time and venue. And a greater reliance on digital to replace printed matter like brochures and catalogues. We’re wagering too that these discrepancies will be more than compensated by the amazing innovations already here and yet to emerge.

We’re betting on a global art market characterised by a mix of digital and physical, and by innovations both already here and yet to emerge.

The Decline of Smaller Galleries?

With no business left unchanged by Covid, it’s possible that independent gallery players will be just as affected as enormous fairs. The art sector can be precarious; a difficult industry to wrangle even when times are good. With smaller galleries often the engines that power emerging talent, Covid made that already-difficult job much tougher.

But a Decline? Not so Fast

With visitors forbidden, these enterprises too began looking to digital solutions: virtual exhibitions, feature-rich websites, collaborations with more and more artists. And with fellow galleries once considered rivals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the creative minds behind galleries have used the Covid restrictions as an opportunity to connect digitally. One example is the Conversation on Culture online forums curated by the New York City and San Francisco-based Jenkins Johnson Gallery.

The results are encouraging: richer, immersive experiences for art-lovers. New opportunities for artists. And projects strengthening the links between all those with an interest: artists and galleries, collectors and curators.

Connecting Collections

Here at Hookson, we had already connected our art client the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust with the leading eMuseum platform. The result was a beautifully realised and searchable collection of the artist’s works. It was a terrific functionality in ordinary times. But when Covid hit, its value and importance became even more pronounced.

Hookson's extensive website for the Wilhelmina Barns-Graham Trust showcases the collection and provides e-commerce functionality.

Can New Digital Solutions Dismantle Barriers to Entry?

With digital taking the lead, many of the traditional barriers faced by new artists began lessening. The digital space expanded opportunities that in the physical world of walls and venues were previously at a premium.

The liberty afforded by digital played into the new collaborations the global art market enjoyed. And, just as it had done with traditionally tough-to-break-into pursuits like music and film, writing and animation, digital became something of a leveller.

At Hookson we’re hoping the inclusive opportunities now reflecting on the art world are more than just welcome spin-offs from dreadful circumstances.

Light in the Darkness

Finally, the global art market is many things: thrilling and giddy. Often exclusive. Sometimes baffling. But it’s also a naturally creative and curious sector. One populated by open minds. And one that exists as much to challenge tradition as champion it.

So we’re putting our cards on the table and stating that it will re-form and redraft its practices in both the Covid and post-pandemic worlds. Digital solutions will be at the centre of this reinvention. And at Hookson, for our art-sector clients, we’ll be at the heart of those innovations.