The art market’s current situation as it stands in mid-2020 has been described as experiencing cardiac arrest by Anders Petterson in his Art Market Confidence Report. All art fairs having been canceled or postponed and those that have opened have done so under challenging constraints. Thus, the art-market that existed before the pandemic is at a global standstill.
There is, however, one sector of the art market that is flourishing. Online sales (like much of retail in general) has picked up the pace and changing positively with the times.
As the pandemic crisis persists, art collectors, (as well as just about everyone) have been spending increasing amounts of time browsing online for all sorts of information, entertainment, and yes, acquisitions.
While it is too early for real data on online art transactions, news that auction houses have been experiencing successful online sales is encouraging.
“We don’t see this as a departure,” says Brooke Lampley, vice chairman of Sotheby’s fine art division, noting that the auction house has sold works online since 2016. Yet, the circumstances of the pandemic have “really allowed us to accelerate a program that was already in place, that we already were exploring.” (1)
Christie’s Matthew Rubinger, deputy chief marketing officer, recalls recently seeing a cartoon that asked: “Who is driving digital innovation in your company? The CMO, CTO, CEO, or Covid-19.” The obvious answer: Covid-19. (1)
Covid-19 has made it an absolute necessity for auction houses, art fairs, galleries, and artists to invest heavily and rapidly on all existing digital technologies such as virtual rooms, augmented reality, direct communications with curators, experts, artists, discussion panels and all available strategies that have the potential to keeping the art market alive and hopefully thriving.
Not only have all major auction houses increased the number of online auction sales, but they have also connected with new buyers. The forced stay at home preventive measures observed for many weeks or months has also provided more time for the public, in general, to explore shopping in categories that they normally would not pay attention to.
Online-only global sales at Sotheby’s across all its categories have totaled the US $80 million year-to-date in nearly 50 sales, compared with US $20 million in 30 sales compared with last year. While Christie’s doesn’t provide total dollar figures available for its online sales this year, Matthew Rubinger, Christie’s Chief Marketing Officer expects the firm to offer more than 80 online auctions in the first half of the year through July, compared with 48 in the same period last year. Phillips didn’t have figures immediately available but said that its new accounts are up 127% this year over last, reflecting a phenomenon that officials at all the auction houses have reported. More than half the buyers at Phillips’ Desktop online auction that closed April 24—featuring the £125,000 (US $154,300) sale of Eddie Martinez’ Bay City—were new, says Charlotte Gibbs, head of online sales. (1)
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Issue #49 July 2020