Contemporary Art Blossoms Despite Covid-19

In the past 20 years the number of auction houses participating in the Contemporary art market has close to doubled and the number of lots sold has multiplied by six. Formerly a very small segment of the overall art market, the Contemporary art segment now accounts for 15% of the global art market. Driving this market are the younger buyers with 21% of contemporary collectors under 40.

In The Global Art Market & COVID-19 Citi Private Bank reports that Contemporary art showed a return of 6.7% in the first seven months of 2020. In comparison, the returns of developed-market stocks were down 2.6%, developed-market invest- ment-grade bonds up 4.3%, private equity down 5.9%, and real estate down 14.5%. The Contemporary art sector performed comparatively well through the pandemic and looks set to continue this trend through 2021.

Emerging artists are doing equally well with late 2020 auctions showing that Contemporary and emerging artists are increasingly popular. Phillips sold a 1980 David Hockney for $41 million, while Sotheby’s sold a work by Alexander Calder for $18 million, achieving more than double its estimate.

Lower-priced artists were also well represented, as indicated by two Matthew Young paintings in particular. A 2018 work at Phillips sold for $1.25 million against a high estimate of $500,000, while a 2017 painting at Sotheby’s had a estimate of $400,000 and sold for $2.35 million. Another piece by Amy Sherald at Phillips sold for $4.3m, trumping a $200,000 estimate.

Analysts maintain that the gap is closing between established and emerging markets due to a rise in younger, affluent buyers and easier market access facilitated by online sales. While the COVID-19 has accelerated acceptance of digital in the art world, this trend looks like it is here to stay. This can only be good for both contem- porary and emerging artists as we enter a new decade of growth with a more agile and adaptable art market.