The Covid-19 crisis has heralded huge changes across every aspect of society. The pandemic amplified opportunities and changes, especially in the digital realm, and people are now paying close attention to digital transformations. The art scene particularly saw unprecedented new phenomena, such as the adoption of virtual reality (VR) exhibitions and online auctions, the activation of online viewing rooms, and the expansion of online art market platforms. Embracing its reopening in the year 2022, The Artro presents special feature to look back and reflect upon the changes that the art world has undergone over the past two years, as well as to project future prospects and outlook. To this end, interviews were conducted with seven visual art experts working in various art fields worldwide. Clara Runge (ZKM), Eunice Lee (Whitney Museum), Johann König (König Galerie), Victoria Siddall (Frieze Fairs), Tim Schneider (Artnet News), Jennifer Pratt (Artsy), Simon Fisher (Ocula) each participated in this project and discussed the transformation of the art industry since Covid-19.
Q. Do you think that Covid-19 has changed the way the art exhibition/market operates? If so, in what ways? (e.g., collaboration with international museums, foundations, etc.)
A. After the initial shock of Covid-19 and lockdown, the art market remained strong, as evidenced by recent auction results and - thankfully - the number of galleries and artists who continued to thrive throughout this period. The pandemic also greatly accelerated the adoption of digital platforms for art and online viewing rooms. These were initially a lifeline for galleries and artists, when people were unable to travel or to visit galleries or art fairs, and of course they are still vital in some parts of the world where this is still the case. Before the pandemic, there was very rarely transparency around the prices of artworks on digital platforms, but this changed quickly when the first fairs went online. There was also a perceived price cap for online art sales, but equally this quickly changed when digital platforms became the primary means of showing and selling art - at Frieze New York in May 2020, one of the first online fairs, a painting by George Condo sold for over $2m.
Something that has coincided with Covid-19 is an increased awareness and concern for environmental sustainability. Gallery Climate Coalition was launched in October 2020 as an international charity and membership organization with the goal of making the art world more sustainable. All members sign up to the shared goal of a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, in line with the Paris Agreement, and there are now over 800 members in 20 countries. The lockdowns imposed by Covid-19 definitely allowed for more mindfulness and awareness of the environment and our impact on it.
Having said that, many things remain the same - the experience of seeing art and people in person is irreplaceable and we all have the desire to make discoveries, which is why fairs have been so well attended by galleries, collectors and curators since they were able to return. The challenge will be balancing that desire to travel and see art with lifestyle and environmental considerations. As digital continues to develop in sophistication, this may help support new ways to see and discover art, and to transact.
Q. What are the consequences (pros & cons) of the growth of the online art market/channel? Should we expand or downsize the online market? Can you suggest any specific improvement measures?
A. One of the benefits of an online art market is that it allows for global interaction without everyone having to be everywhere. This enables efficiencies, which help support the environmental goals of Gallery Climate Coalition that I outlined above. However, we know that there are environmental impacts of digital activity too, particularly the minting of NFTs1), so it is important that this area continues to develop and improve.
Another benefit is that digital platforms have the potential to make art accessible to more people. For example, the works in an art fair now often exist online as well as physically, so they can be seen by people all over the world, many of whom could never have travelled to see them in person. Museums also put many works and exhibitions online, which creates a valuable resource for research and scholarship, and again makes these shows accessible to people who would not be able to travel to see them.
One downside is that digital favors a certain type of art that translates well onto a screen. This means that while some artists will flourish, others are not yet really benefitting from online platforms. This may change as technology develops.
Artists are always early adopters and many have embraced the opportunities that digital has presented, some making works that only exist in virtual reality. It is interesting to look at how artists are using new technologies and how we can learn from this.
Q. What are the influences of digital art (NFT, metaverse, etc.) in various aspects? Is digital art as valuable as traditional art?
A. Artists have been making art using digital media for many years, however NFTs and the metaverse are of course quite recent phenomena. There has been some crossover between the ‘traditional’ art world and the new world of NFT artists and collectors, but on the whole, they operate as quite separate markets. It will be interesting to see how these worlds overlap or move further apart in the future.
Q. Post Covid-19, what is your outlook for the art market? What should each art industry (art fair, gallery, foundation, artist, etc.) do to prepare for this rapidly changing art market?
A. The May 2022 auction season in New York saw over $2.5bn of art sold, and this was alongside a very successful Frieze New York and other fairs that happened during the same month. These results suggest that the art market is strong and that there are a large number of individuals and galleries who are very invested in its success.
Galleries know their own businesses well, and some will remain successful by focusing on their artists and clients, as they always have. However, companies focused on growth and global expansion are investing in digital development and outreach. We are also seeing galleries opening new branches, particularly in Los Angeles and Seoul. Meanwhile, the whole market could also be affected by the adoption of new practices such as registering works on the blockchain to make provenance and authenticity more transparent in the future.
Q. What is attractive about Korean contemporary art? What’s special about it?
A. The appeal of Korean culture is extremely strong internationally, driven by art but also television, film and music. Frieze saw unprecedented levels of applications from galleries to join their new fair in Seoul and there is a lot of excitement for that week in September. We have also seen increasing numbers of galleries opening spaces in Seoul, from Pace expanding to three galleries, to the arrival of Ropac, Gladstone and König. Korean art is hugely sophisticated and interesting for a global audience, but also retains something that is unique to its origins. The artists of Korea are definitely an important aspect of what is driving interest from overseas.
Q. Is there any Korean artist you are paying attention to?
A. I have seen two excellent exhibitions by Anicka Yi recently, who was born in Seoul and now lives in New York - one at the Hangar Bicocca in Milan, as well as her amazing commission for the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern in London. She brings science and nature together in such interesting ways and makes work that is so unique in its combination of familiarity and otherworldliness. I am excited to discover the work of many more Korean artists when I visit Seoul in September for Frieze and KIAF.
1)Minting is a process of converting digital content into a digital asset by making it non-fungible on a blockchain. Controversy over environmental destruction continued as an enormous amount of electricity has been consumed in cryptocurrency mining for NFT transactions.
The Art Market in the Post-Pandemic World – An Interview with Clara Runge
The Art Market in the Post-Pandemic World – An Interview with Eunice Lee
The Art Market in the Post-Pandemic World – An Interview with Johann König
The Art Market in the Post-Pandemic World – An Interview with Tim Schneider
Victoria Siddall is a Non-Executive Director of Frieze, Chair of the Board of Trustees of Studio Voltaire, and Co-Founder and Trustee of Gallery Climate Coalition. From 2014, she held the role of Global Director of Frieze, leading four international art fairs across London, New York, and Los Angeles. Siddall was named as one of the 50 Most Influential People in Britain by GQ Magazine in 2020.