Covid-19: What Does The Future Hold For The Art Market?

As Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc on the markets, what does the future hold for the art world? We’re already seeing substantial changes to the way art is being viewed, purchased and auctioned, but what can investors expect to see over the next year or so?

Naturally, the first consideration is market performance. While the current economic downturn is making investors jittery across the board, the art market continues to offer a beacon of hope. New records are even being set such as Sotheby’s £1,035,000 sale of George Condo’s “Antipodal Reunion”. The piece soared past its £800,000 high estimate to claim the highest price ever for an online Sotheby’s sale.

One change that looks set to truly shake-up the future of the art market is the shift to online auctions, gallery viewing rooms and art fairs. While we can expect art fairs to return to their traditional formats as and when the Covid-19 threat diminishes, some aspects of the online art fair and gallery have struck a chord with collectors and are likely to stay. For example, having an online component makes it easier for collectors and industry insiders to keep their finger on the pulse while also cutting down on the need for travel.

What about the burgeoning online auction world? Is this something that’s also here to stay? Auction houses have had to react rapidly and nimbly to the changed reality of current market conditions by embracing the online arena. Sothebys has planned two additional online sales in mid-May while postponing their traditional spring day auctions that would normally take place at that time in New York.

There is plenty of evidence that collectors are developing an appetite for the online auction format even without the influence of Covid-19. Sotheby’s online sales hit US$36.2 million during Q1 2020, more than double the US$16.5 million sold during Q1 2019. According to Max Moore, co-head of Sotheby’s day auctions of contemporary art in New York, “more than half of the thousands of bidders” at the auction house’s live contemporary sales placed bids online.

As well as auctions going online, Sothebys also recently launched enhanced online catalogues as part of a project which began at the end of last year, before the Covid-19 outbreak. The new catalogues boast interactive features and greater visual storytelling to better help collectors engage with works being sold which they cannot view in person.

The art market is in a good position to weather the storm of Covid-19, largely thanks to the foresight of top auction houses and galleries who had already started to invest heavily in online activity even before the outbreak began. While nobody can know exactly what the future will hold, record-breaking online sales and the clear advantages of virtual art fairs and gallery viewings are proof that Covid-19 has only accelerated a growing trend that looks set to change the art world forever.