The art market at the end of 2021 is a complex animal.
Renewed and revitalized, it is also still marred by lingering uncertainty and the threat of closings, postponements and cancellations.
At the top of the market, the world’s largest auction houses have all had exceptional years. The two biggest players, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, both saw their total worldwide sales exceed $ 7 billion, while Phillips had the best year in history, reaching $ 1.2 billion, up 32% from report to its pre-2019 pandemic results.
For other important market players, however, the current picture is less positively optimistic.
As scientists scrutinize the seriousness of the Omicron variant and politicians enforce new restrictions – or play a waiting game, clinging to the threat of upcoming restrictions – the organizers of physical art events high-level officials must remain vigilant.
The European Fine Arts Fair (TEFAF) has already decided to postpone its March fair in Maastricht, in the hope that it will take place on an even unforeseen date later in the year.
With TEFAF Maastricht having closed in early 2020, before being postponed and then canceled in 2021, the latest COVID-induced disruption in one of Europe’s biggest artistic events does not bode well for a year in candy.
Illustrating the tensions that such disruptions can cause, dealers who were due to attend the March Fair had to wonder if and when the event would now take place. Otherwise, TEFAF has specified that exhibitors could each lose up to € 7,500 in participation fees already paid.
As TEFAF Executive Committee Chairman Hidde van Seggelan explained to Euronews:
“It has been an incredibly difficult time for TEFAF and our exhibitors. Until recently, plans for TEFAF Maastricht in March 2022 were progressing, however, the volatile COVID-19 situation meant that a decision to postpone was inevitable. TEFAF has a full-time team of eighteen and it is no surprise that the organization has incurred significant costs to date during the planning stages of the show.
Unlike other fairs, TEFAF is a non-profit foundation and as such TEFAF is not in a position to subscribe to the fair. Since TEFAF Maastricht may be moved later in 2022, all exhibitor payments to date will be rolled over. “
Meanwhile, the organizers of other major European art fairs remain hopeful that their events will go as planned. One of the first fairs planned is ARCOMadrid, from February 23 to 27. After a reduced version of the show this summer, the 2022 edition should return to its normal winter window, marketed as its 40 (+1) anniversary. ARCOmadrid Director Maribel Lopez said that “today we are optimistic for a better fair than in 2019 and 2020, in terms of quality, quantity and collectors”.
Canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID, another event hoping to be well protected from the restrictions introduced this winter is Belgium’s first contemporary art fair, Art Brussels, which will take place from April 28 to May 1.
Anne Vierstraete, managing director of Art Brussels and sister fair Art Antwerp, said most of the attendees will be galleries that were originally scheduled to attend two years ago.
“We certainly hope to be able to accommodate all 160 galleries,” explains Vierstraete, “but of course we know until the global context requires a lot of flexibility until the last minute, because there is absolutely no certainty in the world of today.
The shows that will take place in 2022 will do so in a market disrupted by the adoption of new technologies and digital solutions. Much attention regarding new digital frontiers in art has rightly focused on the surge in NFTs and the staggering numbers some have achieved: In a year of notable NFT sales, a spike has was achieved in March with the sale of Christie’s in New York from Everydays by digital artist Beeple for a record $ 69 million.
More prosaically, however, the adoption of digital has permeated the art world to leave a lasting imprint on the way it interacts.
As Vierstraete puts it: “In no time at all auction houses, galleries and also art fairs have caught up to a ten-year delay in doing business digitally. The whole art sector has become very professional in the digital approach and has also become very present on social networks.
ARCOmadrid’s Lopez says there is no doubt that “communication through digital platforms has changed some of our relationships in work, art and life. This is what will remain and forever change certain aspects of artistic relationships… ”One of the benefits of this, Lopez adds, is that improving online content means that collectors are now better informed and can interact with the world. work of an artist on a “deeper” level than before. .
Picking up on the same theme, van Seggelan points out that, whereas before the pandemic, “art fairs were ‘weeklong wonders’ which drew collectors from all over the world to major international centers”. that attract and educate collectors throughout the year.
Vierstraete notes that digital solutions have allowed galleries to become more global in their reach, making “sales to new contacts, especially in Asia where the percentage of millennial art buyers has increased significantly…”. difficult to establish a relationship of trust with these new buyers, and to retain them over the long term.
Despite new digital opportunities to connect, Vierstraete agrees with other commentators that collectors have generally avoided risk during the pandemic, by purchasing works by “artists they already follow” at galleries which are “already known” to them. As a result, adds Vierstraete, “the pandemic has made it more difficult to sell emerging artists.”
Ilaria Bonacossa, director of Artissima in Turin, which bills itself as Italy’s most important contemporary art fair, makes the same argument, saying that during COVID-19 closures, “collectors were buying what felt safe, or artists whose work they had already met. and had knowledge of. The launch of new careers has really been stopped.
One reaction to the prevalence of digital offerings, notes Bonacossa, has been a renewed respect for physical reality.
“I think the extended digital experience has made the need for a tactile experience central,” she says. “So ceramics or textiles are becoming more and more important and attracting more and more attention. A different case can be made for painting, especially figurative painting, which receives media and market attention due to its reliability and long-term guarantees. In all historical moments of crisis – as in post-war Europe or after the crash of 1929 – painting has enjoyed unprecedented success. You need a secure economic situation to be experimental.
Unsurprisingly, the art fairs requested by Euronews all underlined the unique quality of being able to see works in person, as well as the pleasant and collegial experience of bringing together artists, gallery owners and collectors under one physical roof.
Speaking of which, van Seggelan from TEFAF says: “We believe there is a huge pent-up demand from collectors to come together for physical fair experiences and anticipate high volume, high value sales when they do. There will naturally be some apprehension about the global COVID-19 situation, but I expect shows to respond with more intimate VIP events, timed entries, and diligent protocols to reassure their exhibitor communities and of collectors. “
Going forward, Vierstraete suggests that art fairs “will be hybrid events; they will continue to be essential as places of physical market, networking and experimentation, but coupled with an online offer ”.
This statement can also be read as a description of the broader market, although the “online” part is increasingly emphasized. Even so, direct engagement with art remains important.
“The way you experience art will remain essential,” says Vierstraete. “I believe that people will continue to be interested in works of art that carry a history, an intimate or societal dimension that interacts with those who view the work. And it is precisely this interaction that creates the uniqueness of the experience.