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Art Market

3 Art-World Experts on How the Art Market Will Change in 2021

Anna Laudel, installation view at Art Dubai 2019. Courtesy of Photo Solutions.

Anna Laudel, installation view at Art Dubai 2019. Courtesy of Photo Solutions.

The art market has gone through 10 years’ worth of innovation and evolution in the past 10 months. In many ways, the events of 2020—from the pandemic to global protest movements against systemic racism—added urgency to changes that were already happening at a glacial pace. As the rest of the world changed, so too did the art market, from auction houses, fairs, and galleries ramping up their online offerings, to collectors getting a lot more comfortable buying works based on high-resolution photos and videos. While some of these changes are temporary—be-masked auction house specialists stationed between plexiglass barriers will not be the norm forever—most are here to stay.
We asked three art-world figures to address how their businesses—an auction house, a gallery, and an art fair—have adjusted this year and how they expect to keep adapting in 2021. Edward Dolman, the CEO of Phillips, helped transition the auction house toward a digital-first strategy with great success; on December 7th, Phillips had its biggest sale ever in New York, bringing in a total of $134.5 million and selling the fourth-most expensive auction lot of 2020, a landscape painting by . Jenkins Johnson Gallery founder and principal Karen Jenkins-Johnson has seen her space maintain its status as a bicoastal powerhouse for presenting new and historic works by artists of color while consistently putting together standout presentations at fairs, both in person and virtually, throughout the year. And in his capacity as Art Dubai’s artistic director, Pablo del Val has been instrumental in guiding the fair from the abrupt cancellation of its 2020 edition to unveiling a sleek virtual exhibition platform and planning the first major in-person art fair slated to take place in the new year.

Edward Dolman, Chief Executive Officer, Phillips

How has the pandemic permanently changed the way you conduct your business?
View of the sales room at Phillips, 2020. Photo by Haydon Perrior. Courtesy of Thomas De Cruz Media.

View of the sales room at Phillips, 2020. Photo by Haydon Perrior. Courtesy of Thomas De Cruz Media.

Even before the pandemic, we were seeing year-on-year growth in online sales and international bidding by phone; in other words, collectors were making the choice to bid in a more accessible, flexible, and convenient way. With the events of this year, our plans for digital innovation were accelerated as auctions were quickly forced to pivot online. The changes required an openness from the collecting community to embrace these new technologies, and the market responded confidently to a steady stream of dynamic online-only sales, hybrid sales, and live virtual sales across all categories. Of course, there’s nothing quite like seeing a great work of art in person and we absolutely remain committed to our brick-and-mortar locations, this year going so far as to open a new outpost in Southampton. However, we are also keenly attuned to the reality of digital life and well aware that many of these advancements have proven to be extremely welcome and are here to stay.

Of the many solutions adopted by people in the art market in response to the exceptional challenges of 2020, which one do you think will have the longest-lasting impact?
With many art fairs having been put on pause, we’ve seen galleries, curators, and artists working much more closely with auction houses and I do see that as a longer-lasting trend.

What art market practices from before the pandemic do you think will never return?
View of the sales room at Phillips, 2020. Courtesy of Phillips.

View of the sales room at Phillips, 2020. Courtesy of Phillips.

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Perhaps the furious pace of fairs and auctions will be adjusted a bit. The big giga-weeks were always so physically demanding on everyone’s resources—from staff, to collectors, and of course to journalists.

What ongoing challenges for the art market did the events of 2020 expose, and how do you think they will be addressed in the coming year?
Broadly speaking, the pandemic and shutdown have likely been very challenging for smaller galleries that typically foster emerging talent. At Phillips we are somewhat of a market bellwether for many emerging artists and we’ve seen artists like , who we debuted to auction in July, sign on with major galleries after the fact.

Karen Jenkins-Johnson, Founder and Principal, Jenkins Johnson Gallery

How has the pandemic permanently changed the way you conduct your business?
Like everyone else, Jenkins Johnson has had to increase our use of online communication tools. We have increased our collaboration with other galleries and special projects with art fairs and museums. And we have built awareness about current art-world topics with artists, collectors, and curators with our online forum “Conversations on Culture.”

Of the many solutions adopted by people in the art market in response to the exceptional challenges of 2020, which one do you think will have the longest-lasting impact?
I believe the longest-lasting impact will be from the use of online communication tools including social media, allowing for virtual exhibitions, studio visits, and connecting people globally. I believe it will have a positive lasting impact because it lowers the barriers to participation for gallerists, collectors, artists, curators, and writers. It levels the playing field for those who do not have the capital or equity to pursue a brick-and-mortar space, or the time and financial resources to travel.

What art market practices from before the pandemic do you think will never return?
I would “never say never.” That said, in my opinion the pandemic has accelerated the decline of some art market practices including smaller gallery exhibition spaces and traditional print media.

What ongoing challenges for the art market did the events of 2020 expose, and how do you think they will be addressed in the coming year?
An ongoing challenge for the art market that the events of 2020 exposed is the lack of diversity and inclusion in the industry. People of color are underrepresented in museums, institutions, and galleries. Organizations need to increase the number of Black, Latinx, and other minority individuals at all levels. Museums’ organizational culture and lack of diversity has led to resignations and mistakes. Black trustees are joining together to make art museums more diverse.

Pablo del Val, Artistic Director, Art Dubai

How has the pandemic permanently changed the way you conduct your business?
Samson Young, performance view of Muted Situation #2: Muted Lion Dance at Art Dubai 2019. Courtesy of Photo Solutions.

Samson Young, performance view of Muted Situation #2: Muted Lion Dance at Art Dubai 2019. Courtesy of Photo Solutions.

Art Dubai holds an important position as a major catalyst in the activation and nurturing of art and culture from the MENASA region. With the physical fair not being able to take place as normal this year, we have expanded our year-round initiatives in terms of gallery support, as the impacts of the pandemic have demonstrated how important this is for the ecosystem to thrive. This includes online sales opportunities through the fair’s digital platform, developing new concepts for curated online shows, and connecting galleries to international collectors in the physical realm.

Of the many solutions adopted by people in the art market in response to the exceptional challenges of 2020, which one do you think will have the longest-lasting impact?
The strongest positive has been the proliferation of unprecedented collaborations—between primary and secondary markets, or the pop-up projects and hybrid models we have seen taking shape in art centers around the world, as artists, galleries, and organizations have come together to support one another. This year has highlighted the bigger picture idea of exploring new models constantly, and demonstrates the dynamism and adaptability of the art ecosystem.

What art market practices from before the pandemic do you think will never return?
Art Dubai 2019. Courtesy of Photo Solutions.

Art Dubai 2019. Courtesy of Photo Solutions.

A positive that has evolved out of circumstances of this year is that, collectively, this moment of pause has made the industry more conscious about its impacts and the need to implement more sustainable, eco-friendly practices as we return to a “new normal.” While there clearly can be no true substitute for the international travel and events that make up the art market, as we move forward it is likely that people will be more considered in their way of doing things; traveling less frequently but planning trips to coincide with multiple engagements, for example. That is where fairs such as Art Dubai can play an important role, acting as a convening moment for the market in the region and as a nexus for satellite events.

What ongoing challenges for the art market did the events of 2020 expose, and how do you think they will be addressed in the coming year?
This year has starkly exposed the ongoing systemic issues of inequality, race, and representation that need to be tackled within the arts industry. People are waking up to the urgent need to foreground previously underrepresented voices to begin to readdress the historic imbalance. Art Dubai has an ongoing commitment to providing a platform of discovery for previously marginalized global perspectives, which has been even further expanded to drive meaningful engagement with artists from the Global South and the extended MENASA region and broaden conversations about art beyond traditional Western-led geographical scopes and narratives.
Artsy Editorial