The art world is facing undeniable pressures as the global pandemic forges on, with artists and galleries scrambling to respond to unprecedented circumstances and onerous financial pressures. With the market outlook being so uncertain, many collectors will be wondering whether now is a wise time to be investing in art. Anita Choudhrie examines the impact of COVID-19 on the art world.
I for one, believe the health crisis has created an exciting new landscape for art investment – one which we should not let pass us by.
People are generally more cautious with their money during a period of economic uncertainly, including with their spending and investments. Naturally, this is having a huge impact on the entire art ecosystem, affecting artists and galleries, as well as the huge number of other people who make a living from the community.
However, the art industry is impressively resilient. In recent history there have been many other periods of precarity, including recessions, previous health pandemics and unpredicted events which have sent shockwaves through the world… but the art industry has always recovered.
According to a Statista report, in 2019 the global art industry was valued at $67bn, a stark contrast to the art market’s $39bn evaluation in 2008 and 40% decline between the recession years of 2007 and 2009.
It cannot be denied that covid-19 is an unprecedented event which will have rippling effects for years to come, but it will do collectors well to remember that, as we have seen before, normality will eventually resume and the market will recover.
With this in mind, now is an important time for collectors to be supporting the delicate art ecosystem wherever possible.
‘Top objects at very reasonable prices’
Many auction houses and galleries have set up charity sales, offering collectors an opportunity to purchase credible art at amazing prices, whilst doing their bit to keep the market afloat.
An example of one of these opportunities was the online auction held by art dealer Danny Katz in May with Sotheby’s. The sale comprised of 140 pieces, with Katz commenting beforehand: “The estimates for some of these things are ridiculously low and hopefully they will go higher. But there are opportunities for people to buy beautiful Scandinavian art, 19th century art, modern British art, renaissance sculpture… Top objects at very reasonable prices.”
The prices of the most established artists in the world are unlikely to drop, but as the pandemic continues, prices across the board will likely begin to fall. Overpriced pieces will be recognised as such, and their prices adjusted accordingly. These market shifts may offer collectors an opportunity to pick up artworks which were previously unaffordable.
A time for change
Along with presenting collectors with an opportunity to pick up some fantastic bargains, the pandemic is also offering the chance for anyone with an active role in the art world to be influential in much-needed industry change.
Class and affluence have long set up a divide in the art world, barring the masses from immersing themselves in the close-knit community. Furthermore, the fine art market continues to be conservative when it comes to the type of artists who have the largest market share; out of the topmost profitable artists, the majority are white and male.
Since 2018, Stellar International Art Foundation has put additional resource into supporting female and minority artists, by giving them a platform to display and promote their work. Despite the pandemic, our work in this area has continued this year. In March, we held our third annual event in support of International Women’s Day, this year to celebrate the work of emerging artist Adia Wahid, whose focus on algorithms and technology has become even more relevant during the pandemic.
Some galleries are also using this time to tackle the industry imbalance by selling the works of more established artists and using part of the funds from these sales to buy the works of more junior artists in need of support.
Everyone who follows the world of art will be aware of the impressive innovation the industry has shown to adapt during the crisis. With galleries, art fairs and auction houses unable to function as normal, they have been quick to adapt to use new and existing technologies to continue to operate to the best of their ability.
The pandemic may be wreaking havoc on the world, but it is also providing the long-needed incentive for the art industry to fully embrace change.
Not only is this embrace of technology helping the industry to weather the crisis, it is also acting as a powerful democratiser. Artists are using lockdown to set up their own websites, to curate their own shows and display their art on social media, this allowing them to display their art for potential buyers to see, without the extortionate fees of renting a gallery space. Additionally, online initiatives such as the #artistsupportpledge are also urging artists to put their work up for sale for less than £200 apiece.
Searching the hashtag, you will see some amazing artworks available to buy from emerging artists, for substantially less than what they would usually cost. Schemes like this are helping to make art more affordable and accessible to everyone and in turn, supporting the industry to stay afloat.
A cultural investment
With the global economy currently disrupted and with
no real indication of when ‘normality’ will resume, it is understandable that collectors may be treading carefully with their next purchase. Yet as we know, art has long proven to be a stable investment, often outperforming other asset classes and weathering the most difficult of global financial storms.
Of course, every collector’s situation is different, but there are certainly great deals to be had across the entire spectrum of the art market; whether you are in the fortunate position to invest in fine art, or are looking to make your first purchase from the emerging category.
I would urge art collectors old and new to recognise this period for what it is; a crucial time which with your support, could lead to a vital democratisation of the industry – your next purchase might not only be a financial investment, but a cultural one too.
Anita Choudhrie is founder of Stellar International Art Foundation.