How the art world adapted to survive lockdown

A year of lockdowns has left its mark on the art world.

A new report showed global art sales fell 22% in 2020 - the steepest market drop since the financial crisis, thanks to travel bans, social distancing restrictions and the cancellation of art fairs.

Source: UBS and Art Basel's Art Market Report

But the industry has found ways to adapt to the new normal.

// 1. The move to digital //

For auction houses the answer was to go online.

Those already used to telephone bidding and online sales could pivot relatively painlessly.

In fact, the digital world itself came a wealth target.

Christie’s hosted a record-breaking $70 million digital artwork sale in March.

It was the first ever sale by a major auction house of a piece of art that does not exist in physical form.

Even the artist, Mike Winkelmann, was left lost for words.

"Uhh... I don't even.. it's... I...''

There has also been an influx of young collectors who have found the online world more accessible.

As customers become accustomed to virtual viewings,

more people appear to be willing to purchase artworks online without seeing the real thing first.

But experts say lockdowns have accelerated the concentration of the art world into the hands of very wealthy buyers and established sellers.

// 2. Embracing new freedoms //

Smaller galleries and individual artists have struggled the most.

While it’s been financially difficult, German artist ANTOINETTE has seen some positives.

The cancellation of public events has allowed her more time to focus on her work.

"We all need to develop a relationship with the situation, and depending on how successfully we manage this, we will either fail or succeed. It's likely all of us will have to develop new strategies, really all of us, as everything will change and for me it is this new multi-media work that I am working on with my team. It adds a whole new quality and reaches a much much wider international public. So I am constantly making new experiences.’’

// 3. Capitalizing on the breather //

Tourism has also been a big casualty.

The Art Basel fair normally boasts nearly 100,000 visitors.

This year it’s been postponed from June until September.

While experts anticipate a recovery in demand for fairs and art tourism, some gallery owners have actually welcomed the pause – seeing it as an opportunity to reassess their future commitments.

Auctioneers are betting on pent-up demand, as traditional buyers yearn to return to the real world.

In the 2007 financial crisis many of the world's rich lost money.

But the super-rich have become richer this past year - as financial stimulus and volatile markets served to increase their fortunes.