We are living through historic times. The novel coronavirus is affecting not only our proximity to others, but also our daily lives, jobs and of course how we spend our free time. In this article, Singulart reflects on current trends in the online art market and how this pandemic is affecting not only our business but the entire art market and the behavior of its stakeholders.
Art prevails and flourishes – even during social distancing
History has shown that no matter the circumstances, artists will always find a way to create and reflect on current events. This was true for the Plague and the Spanish flu and is no different in times of Covid-19.
Many smaller galleries are struggling to expose their artist’s works to the public since they had to close their exhibitions spaces. However, with artists creating more and more works inspired in part by the current situation, online alternatives to showcase their newest creations have been built and expanded, ranging form virtual showrooms over digital exhibitions to online galleries such as Singulart gaining influence and importance.
The prominent shift to online offerings for art fairs
Early adapters Art Central and Art Basel show the possibility of an alternative digital future, thanks to Covid-19.
The industry was hit badly when the wave of fair cancellations became evident in late February, beginning of March. Fairs such as Art Basel | Hong Kong and Art Central reacted hastily in March by offering an online experience. Art Basel gave access to online viewing rooms where guests were able to visit 97% of the exhibitor booths while Art Central published a digital catalog which is still online until May 1st.
However, many fairs have had an online offering prior to the global health emergency, and it is interesting to point out that, according to “The Art Market 2020” report, galleries make more than a third of their sales either prior or after the fair. Needless to say, the online alternative of Art Basel | Hong Kong achieved unseen numbers of viewers for the fair (250.000 visitors online vs. 88.000 on the fair last year). What was significantly different to an offline fair is the price transparency because each piece came with either a specific price or a price range, lifting the curtain of an otherwise well hidden part of an art fair.
Should the online shift be considered as a permanent change for the market?
Opinions are divided on whether or not this online offering should become the state of the art or function solely as a complement to the fair itself. With Art Basel’s organizers stressing that the virtual initiatives will never replace the live events, well-known art dealer David Zwirner says:
“If there were fewer regional art fairs, but stronger online offerings, it could do everyone a favor — and the environment. […] If galleries are closed, how can we sell art? The online platform is something we have envisioned as an important part of what we do.”
Many smaller galleries have struggled in the past to keep up with the pressures of appearing at art fairs all over the world, with not only fees to enter the fair but also travel expenses taking a toll on smaller businesses. Many exhibitors or fair goers complain of “Fairtigue“: too many booths, too many works already sold. This in turn strains the galleries exhibiting who are confronted with professionals that experience this overwhelmed feeling.
After the financial crisis of 2008/2009, international art fairs have become more and more common with their numbers skyrocketing. In 2019 alone, 260 more art fairs have been organized compared to the year prior. This is backed by galleries that report an average of 45% of their sales thanks to fairs — as the Art Basel/UBS report on the art market shows.
In line with David Zwirner’s opinion, online exhibitions and fairs might be a good alternative or an added service for galleries, reducing their need of travel and entry fees while still exposing the work of their artists to a vast audience all around the world.
How Singulart has adapted to the new status quo of the art market
Even though Singulart is an online gallery by nature, we have also established an offline presence at fairs. We were able to attend the Scope NYC in February but unfortunately could not exhibit at the Affordable Art Fair Brussels, as well as the Discovery Art Fair in Cologne. However, since we are a digital Start-up, we have embraced the chance of expanding our online offer with an aftervideo for the Scope NYC, our virtual gallery for the AAF, and are proud to showcase our digital booth for the Discovery Art Fair.
Future outlook on an increasingly online art market
With the majority of news being negative and grim, we would like to highlight silver linings and even positive developments in the art market that were possible and driven by the situation caused by the coronavirus.
From an economic standpoint, the Art Market Report by Art Basel/UBS states that the online retail sector is expected to grow, and continue to do so, by more than 85% in the next four years. This would be an increase in market shares of 14 to 22 per cent. The art market is lagging a bit behind with only 9% of market share. However, almost 61% of high net worth collectors reported to have used Instagram and other online tools as a starting point to buy art.
The online offer might be able to level the playing field, giving smaller galleries an option to shine. Local cultural offerings are becoming more researched and sought after, with a digital visit having the potential to expose artists to a broad audience and negating the drawback of extensive fees for entry into an art fair. Furthermore, this online presence and supply of possibilities to experience art in a new way might be an easy entry for people who so far shied away due to intimidation of entering auction houses or art galleries. Thus, opening up the market for a brand new clientele, especially since Millennials are getting more involved. With this, art would attract a generation of digital natives with a strong purchase power who are used to buying online.
Even classic auction houses are able to profit from the situation. According to the New York Times, Phillips said that his auction of 20th century and contemporary art on March 4th had a record number of online participants, with online bidders from 47 countries.
What chances and changes can we expect from the online art market?
To conclude and sum up the developments in the online art market since the beginning of this year, the following highlights and developments seem most notable.
The art market is changing and showing a clear shift towards digitalization, be it as an alternative to offline offers or as a complementary initiative. These structures might help smaller galleries to regain strength after the lockdown and the corona crisis (given they were able to survive), due to a less expensive version of showcasing their artists creations to a broad audience all over the world.
We hope this will open up the art market to people who so far have shied away from museums or galleries due to the intimidation factor of actually having to enter a place like this. An online presence allows them to browse through paintings, read about their creators and get familiar with the art world from the comfort of their own homes.
As all industries, the art market has taken a hit. However, online galleries such as Singulart see that even in times like these art is still purchased. With artists creating artworks that reflect on our current situation, many want to acquire a piece of history and buy a corona related artwork. Or, with the necessity to spend a lot of time in the house, livening up your own home with artworks is a welcomed distraction many are thankful for.