“The past year shook up the art industry as never before.” You can read this assessment by Colleen Cash, Vice President of artnet’s auction division, in a company announcement the listed art portal made on 17 May 2021. Although here in Germany’s far north – Art.Salon is based in Hamburg, the city of Hanseatic serenity – shake-ups are not usually diagnosed quite so quickly, there is nevertheless no doubt that the art market is currently undergoing considerable changes and also facing serious challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Art needs change. As does the art market now
The art market is on the move, power relations are shifting and artists, galleries as well as art fairs have to redefine their roles. Whoever fails to adapt to the changes will find it difficult to position themselves on the market. During the coronavirus pandemic, however, galleries, auction houses and artists have impressively shown how quickly even the traditionally rather sluggish art market can adapt and embrace technical innovations. We thus expect the next few years to be exciting and are pleased to be opening the Art.Salon during this special time and be in a position to accompany the happenings on the international art scene a little.
The coronavirus has also hit the art market hard
More than half of all international art fairs were cancelled completely and the rest were subject to extensive restrictions and significantly reduced visitor numbers. Museums remained closed for long periods, auction houses held only a few live auctions, galleries reduced the number of their exhibitions and had to dispense with lively vernissage events; art dealers had to limit their personal contacts and many artists had to rely on themselves. While, they had a chance to try out new things and were able to focus on the creative act more than ever before, they were nevertheless deprived of many opportunities to give their art visibility. All this resulted in a quarter less turnover on the global art market in 2020 than before the pandemic – which was nevertheless 25% more than in the year of the financial crisis in 2009.
This is no more than a side note in terms of the global economy, as the art market is a dainty little orchid sector with an annual turnover of about USD 50 billion (42 billion euros) – Amazon alone generated more than seven times as much turnover last year and the company is worth as much on the stock market as Giacometti’s L’homme au doigt (USD 141 million), Edvard Munch's Scream (USD 120 million), Modigliani’s Nu couché (USD 157 million) and the combined value of all other works of art traded in the last 30 years. The close to 3 million people employed in the art market will, of course, see this differently – as for some of them this “side note" can be of existential importance. It is safe to assume that the Nigerian artist Matthew Eguavoen speaks not only for many other artists, but also for galleries, art fairs and auction houses in describing the coronavirus pandemic as the low point of his artistic career to date.
You can buy all four pictures together with the daily turnover of Amazon - and still have enough money for one or two Picassos
The art market discovers the internet
The art market nevertheless happens to be the combination of art and the market, two shaping forces that are both accustomed to reacting to crises with innovation. The shift of exhibitions and auctions to the internet has, for example, dramatically accelerated and the art world is quickly making up for its longstanding deficit in internet usage. While the overall art market has slumped by over 20%, online sales of art have doubled and now account for approximately a quarter of the total sales on the art market. Contrary to the expectations of traditional players on the art market, collectors are both able to discover new artists digitally and willing to purchase art they have never seen live over the internet. While established art fairs continue to exclude online galleries from participating, artists are already selling their works directly to new collectors via Instagram without relying on a gallery or even an art fair. The auction market has also dramatically shifted to the internet – and has done so with great success. Traditional auction houses, first and foremost Sotheby’s and Christie’s, managed to significantly limit their declines in turnover as a result, while others, who had already leveraged the internet in any case, were veritably kissed awake.
artnet, for example, has awoken from years of deep slumber to find something akin to the holy grail for itself in online auctions. This did not go unnoticed and artnet’s stock market value, which had been hovering between 15 and 20 million euros for many years, tripled within a few months. This means that artnet is worth as much as a jpg file today – at least if it is the NFT Everyday by the artist Beeple (real name Mike Winkelmann), which was auctioned for USD 69 million at Christie’s on 11 March 2021. His more than 2 million Instagram followers, which he had built up over the years without the help of a gallery, surely contributed to this auction success.
Auction record: USD 69 million for a JEPG
The balance of power is shifting
It really seems as if the entire art market has been woken up after a long slumber, although a case can be made that rather than taking place in 2020, the big shakeup is yet to come. The roles of the various players on the art market are currently being renegotiated and the balance of power is being redefined. The art market has been characterised for years by a high concentration of money and power. The two major auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s cover more than 50% of the entire auction market, and the most important factor for an artist’s success is being accepted the right gallery – only artists who succeed in being represented by one of the “big five” have the best prospects for an international career.
This position of power shared by a select few market participants is nevertheless being increasingly undermined. Instagram, long known primarily for its food porn, pictures of cats and self-proclaimed influencers, has now become one of the most important platforms for discovering and buying art. And it is above all the artists themselves who present their work there and sell it directly to collectors – without the help of a gallery or established art market. Although this will not make the traditional gallery superfluous, it will have to reposition itself and will less and less be able to rely on exclusive contracts with artists. This is certainly to be welcomed, insofar as it breaks down “gatekeeper roles” and puts the emphasis back on the curatorial service, the staging of exhibitions and the mediation of art. At the same time, however, it complicates the still arduous and lengthy path (even for galleries) required to build up artists, introduce them to the art market and establish them with collectors.
All of these changes and upheavals indicate one thing above all: the art world is more vibrant and dynamic than ever before. It discusses the socially relevant aspects, attracts global attention, sets agendas and sinks in. It fulfils its task, from which not only the players of the art world benefit, but on which every society and we as a global community absolutely depend. And even if successful (in the classical sense) art is absorbed, hyped, exhausted and downright exploited by the international art market faster than ever before, the most important and valuable ideas still originate far from the glossy art world, in societal niches, in the artists’ backyard studios, at universities, off-spaces and places where you neither expect nor look for art and where the artists themselves, rather than working on their careers, are pursuing a mission, transporting a message or simply acting out an inner urge to create.
Art.Salon – a space for art
With Art.Salon, we are currently opening a new space for art that invites all art enthusiasts to participate and join in – artists and art collectors, galleries and museums, auction houses and every last art lover. As far as we can tell, there are already a few art portals on the internet, maybe even few hundred, so although it would make us happy, of course, we don’t really expect that the art world has been eagerly awaiting our arrival. However, perhaps we can contribute the odd thing that appeals to the odd person, and if that leads to a collector discovering a new work, an artist getting deserved visibility or an art lover being inspired by a new idea, Art.Salon has achieved its objective.
Art.Salon is still not finished today, and it probably never will be, because it is meant to live, grow and evolve. If you are interested in the “big”, established artists on the international auction market, you can search for images and prices in our price database and obtain an estimate of an artist’s “market value” at any time. In Artworld – where you are reading this article right now – we will introduce artists, report on exhibitions and art fairs and explore societal discussions about the art world. As we already mentioned that Art.Salon is based in Hamburg, we will pay undeservedly frequent attention to this art desert (which we nevertheless love) as well as to the art mecca Berlin and probably the entire German art world, but apart from this slight and hopefully forgivable bias, we will do our best to provide you a global perspective.
We nevertheless also aim to give artists, galleries and museums a space to present their work and reach a new audience. We invite anyone who may be interested to help shape Art.Salon. Some of the offers to this end will only be forthcoming in the coming weeks, months and perhaps years. As we ourselves do not yet know exactly where the journey will take us, we welcome every suggestion and every proposal for cooperation, and this is not an empty phrase, but rather an invitation to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to receiving your messages.
Yours sincerely, Felix Brosius
Dive deeper into the art world
Matthew Eguavoen portrays people with a strong personality and a fixed gaze. Depicted against a reduced background, the social context is kept deliberately hidden, making it a subject for discussion. Eguavoen challenges the observer to speculate about the living conditions, experiences and characters of the people depicted, and takes them into uncertain terrain. A young artist from Nigeria with his own signature, whose paintings deal with the central question of origin and identity.
He is one of the best-known artists from one of the poorest countries in the world: Gonçalo Mabunda from Mozambique makes works of art from old firearms used in the civil war. Both as an artist and an anti-war activist, he works for peace and seeks to add beauty and security to his homeland.