In these exceptional troubled times, with part of the planet living in confinement in response to the life-threatening nature of the pandemic, as the entire world comes to a standstill, it might seem inappropriate to talk about the trivialities of the art market. That said, this market is a vital source of income for the artistic community and a significant source of pleasure for the community of collectors. Here is the analysis from some key figures on the current situation in the field.
Art Basel or not
Art Basel or not Art Basel? That really would be a disruption to the global art market calendar. For several days now rumours have been multiplying surrounding the cancellation in June of the leading global fair in the field of 20th and 21st century art. The decision will evidently depend on the Swiss authorities. So it might be postponed until the autumn.
In Hong Kong, Gagosian gallery director Nick Simunovic states: “I’d be surprised if the Frieze fair were to take place in London in May and if Art Basel happened. This series of cancellations opens up the space for new opportunities.” Nick Simunovic is optimistic. “I should say, taking the example of the 2008 crisis, that our business increased over that specific period in Asia.
Impressionist and Modern
For some time now, for instance, we’ve been observing higher demand in the field of impressionist and modern art for the long list of classics like Monet and Picasso… We can also anticipate that people will be travelling less.” (Watch an interview with Nick Simunovic here).
So how are they going to consume art? Online! “Yes, the cancellation of the Art Basel Hong Kong fair” (see the report dedicated to the virtual Art Basel Hong Kong) “has left the artistic community in a state of bewilderment. But in Asia our clients are very happy to use the internet. They know what they’re looking at. Sales on the basis of a photo tend to happen when they are already familiar with the artist. The process will no doubt become more widespread. Last year during Art Basel Hong Kong we sold a painting by Albert Ohlen at our online viewing room for 6 million dollars.”
On 12 March 2020 the Thaddaeus Ropac gallery held one of its most highly anticipated opening events of the year in Paris. It was to inaugurate an exhibition composed of new works by the highly esteemed British sculptor Antony Gormley (born in 1950). Up until 3 December 2019 he had been the subject of an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, which masterfully demonstrated his invention of a three-dimensional language; a unique way of drawing in space with the aid of metal. This goes to show how highly anticipated the Parisian event also was. Collectors even braved borders to travel over from the United States. At the Ropac gallery Gormley’s works – which were meant to be displayed until 2 May, but the gallery is now closed due to the coronavirus – are on sale for between 400,000 and 700,000 pounds.
But following Donald Trump’s announcement of strict border controls, these art lovers rushed to depart, even before the opening, returning to their home countries. According to Thaddaeus Ropac, five works by the artist have been sold to people in various parts of the world, but only one was seen by its new owner in person. The other buyers were content to make their decisions on the basis of reproductions. It’s not by chance that the Ropac gallery, who have two spaces in Paris, two spaces in Salzburg and another in London, are opening a new site on 18 March, this time a virtual one. It’s an “online viewing room” designed like a real gallery – it even has benches which symbolically allow you to sit down – with videos so that you can take a tour of the artworks. This virtual space will also allow users to be in 24-hour contact with someone from the gallery (watch it here). “Right now people aren’t really in the mood for buying art. We can count on there being at least two months of major disruption. I remember after the 2008 crisis business gradually started up again in 2009. The desire to experience art can’t disappear just like that,” adds the gallerist, who is also optimistic. ( Watch an other interview with Thaddaeus Ropac here)
The art world is literally flooded with announcements from all over the planet informing of the closure of museums, galleries and the indefinite postponement of auctions. This is true of Christie’s, who are postponing their March and April sales.
“In 50 years of working at Christie’s I’ve rarely witnessed such changes to the calendar,” recalls François Curiel, chairman of the group in Europe and Asia. “We once had to close Christie’s due to a blizzard in New York. During the major SARS crisis in Hong Kong we pushed our sales back from April to May. After a period of quiet the art lovers, having been deprived for a while, will show an even greater interest in art.” François Curiel also points out that an online watches sale which ended on 12 March, estimated by Christie’s at 800,000 dollars, made 1.8 million dollars with buyers from 41 countries.
“We can assume that collectors will also have more time to surf the internet,” comments Allan Schwartzman from New York, chairman and executive vice president at Sotheby’s.(1) “And they remain active for the time being. We’ve made private sales in recent weeks. But for the past few years now there has been greater selectivity in contemporary art and impulse buys are rare. I’d be curious to know what percentage of collectors will be making acquisitions without seeing the artworks in person over the coming months. Personally, I never recommend a work without having seen it. (watch an other interview with Allan Schwartzman here)
It is also conceivable, because it happens each time a crisis emerges, that tastes will change. People will start looking for more sophisticated pieces, ones that are less attractive at first sight.”
This is the next big step for the art market.
(1)Sotheby’s has made a statement on 17 March: “We plan to make final decisions about each event approximately 30 days prior to the existing sale date and will alert all relevant parties at that time(…).We continue to offer clients a range of services including Private sale opportunities and lending through Sotheby’s financial services taking into account the relevant geographical restrictions”.
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