As the UK Economy Possibly Heads Towards a Downward Spiral the Strength of the Art Market is Defying All Odds.

Words by Shemaiah Gold

As we enter the second half of the year it is very evident that the art market has skyrocketed. In a previous article, we looked at the famous Swiss collectors Thomas and Doris Amman’s collection who have contributed to this year’s sales tremendously. Between them and the collection by Texan heiress Anne M. Bass, approximately $688.2 million in sales has been generated. What is very interesting to note is the natural resilience of the art market during such an economic and politically challenging time.

This time last year the market was showing $3.5 billion in sales; this year, so far, it has been reported to be at least $4.1 billion in sales. That is an 18% increase of sales generated by auction houses such as Christies, (one of the largest auction houses in the world) as well as private sales.

According to Christie’s computations, 44% of its buyers are based in the Americas, 34% in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and 22% of its buyers from Asia (this figure has decreased since last year where they made up 39% of total sales).

There has been interest regarding diversity and gender equality in the art world; many rising female artists are emerging. In a once male dominated arena, more of the men in the art world are realising the importance of leading females in the art space. During the evening sale at Phillips auction house, held during its London headquarters a few weeks ago, we saw a combination of modern and contemporary art offered from female artists such as Share Hughes and Caroline Walker bringing in a combined total of £17.5 million.

So, what is keeping the art market so strong when the UK may be heading towards another recession? One explanation could be that auction houses have positioned themselves well enough to be able to survive any approaching economic headwind. From the very beginning of the pandemic, Christie’s did its best to make the established collecting class feel comfortable buying art online; giving them more understanding on how to spend money on artwork from any era of art history, thus dissolving the barrier between 20th and 21st century art. Having an intentional strategy to bridge this gap would explain why there has been so many millennials investing in art of late. New sales formats at auction houses and galleries have proselytized the millennial generation; the younger class who would usually begin their collection with bored apes and Rolexes are taking a keen interest in older works such as Gerhard Richter and Issy Wood. It seems that there is a very strong appetite for art and culture among millennial collectors who, are social media savvy and, with the immense power of social media and the rapid development in the tech space, we cannot ignore how this would continue to make the art world more immersive, exciting and, hopefully inspire a fresh crop of millennial collectors. The COVID-19 pandemic sparked a new and more interactive way to enjoy art, seeing game developers and art curators creating the most extraordinary exhibitions, both virtual and physical. The web 3.0 phenomenon has united art, technology and science, bringing collaborators like physicists and astronomers into its artistic fold. Overall, online content is becoming more important for auction houses; both Sotheby’s and Christie’s have been moving away from printed catalogues, considering dynamic storytelling such as video content and VR development.

At Sotheby’s, Nicole Schloss, Co-Head of contemporary art day auctions in New York, said, “Simultaneously with galleries online viewing rooms growing, … we’ve been able to drive traffic to Sothebys.com for bidding in both online-only sales and live sales.” The pandemic shut down the way not just how art galleries and auction houses traditionally do business but also art fairs. They too, have migrated online.