Art Market

3 Italian Galleries Share How COVID-19 Shaped Their Art-Selling Strategies

Ayanna Dozier
Nov 11, 2022 10:20PM

In February 2020, New York looked towards Italy as the country experienced a devastating hit from COVID-19; their struggles soon traveled westward to U.S. shores. Now, nearly three years later, global lockdowns and travel restrictions have largely lifted, and Italy’s art scene is returning to its typical vibrancy.

The atmosphere was giddy and amorous at the opening of the 59th Venice Biennale earlier this spring, and that energy has continued throughout the duration of the Biennale (which closes November 27th). In October, scholars, activists, and artists returned to Venice for the powerful three-day symposium “The Loophole of Retreat,” organized by artist Simone Leigh to coincide with her presentation at the American pavilion. Crowds are also flocking to art events throughout Milan, Florence, and Rome.

Nevertheless, COVID-19 has forever altered the art market, and artists, curators, gallerists, and collectors have developed new strategies for communicating. Artsy spoke with gallery reps at Studio Mariani Gallery, Contini Art Gallery, and Studio Gariboldi about how the COVID-19 pandemic altered their gallery practices and how they are faring nearly three years after the initial outbreak.

Igor Mitoraj
Vulcano II, 2008
Contini Art Gallery
Kuniyoshi Kaneko
Girl with a strawberry, 1970-1971
Studio Gariboldi

At the beginning of the pandemic, galleries around the world quickly transitioned to online sales models, increasing their social media presence or developing online viewing rooms. L’Aquila-based Studio Mariani Gallery, however, was already accustomed to online engagement, as the staff used Artsy and other online platforms. They actually noticed an increase in both sales and collector engagement during the early days of the pandemic. “Working mainly online, our activities during the pandemic have been continuous,” said the representatives. “We have focused on enhancing our archive by offering exhibitions and viewing rooms through Artsy. This is what we have always done, the pandemic has not changed our way of working.”

On the other side of the spectrum, staff at the Milan-based Studio Gariboldi said the pandemic completely rearranged their operations. They recalibrated their market strategies in order to survive. The lockdown eliminated audience attendance at the gallery and forced the team to adapt to what gallery director Giovanni Gariboldi described as a “smart working regime”—they used online platforms to reach their homebound audience. “I have increased our online presence and designed a new physical exhibition space in order to change our reception strategies,” Gariboldi wrote.

Virgilio Guidi
Bacino di San Marco, 1937
Contini Art Gallery

In Venice, meanwhile, Contini Art Gallery was at the center of the first wave of the pandemic. The gallery’s main storefront is just feet from the city’s central St. Mark’s Square, with another location in Contina d’Ampezzo in the heart of the Dolomites. The gallery’s staff noticed that as soon as Italians could travel within the country, a new, more regional audience began appearing at their shows. “We had the chance to strengthen relationships with local institutions and visitors that came to visit our magical city finally free from the mass tourism,” wrote gallery manager Riccarda Grasselli Contini.

As art world gatherings return to pre-pandemic levels of enthusiasm, Studio Mariani has noticed that collectors and visitors are also leaping at opportunities to reconnect in person. “The first [in-person] show after the long break due to [the pandemic] gave us great emotions, especially in seeing so much enthusiasm, emotion, and participation [from] the public,” gallery reps said. “The most curious thing was the strange desire of some passionate collectors to contemplate the most colorful and gestural works for a long time as if to absorb hidden energy.”

Mary Bauermeister
Studio fetich leftover, 1967-1971
Studio Gariboldi

Contini described a sense of “revenge travel” for collectors who were fatigued by global isolation during lockdown; they are now hungry for in-person events. Their adventurous mood has extended to their collecting practices, leading many to explore new aesthetic interests. Artists, too, are experimenting with new styles. “At the end of the health crisis we found ourselves in front of breathtaking masterpieces,” Contini wrote.

Despite this excitement for in-person art viewing experiences, these galleries’ online presences remain robust. “We are still struggling with the consequences of the economic crisis that resulted from the pandemic,” wrote reps from Studio Mariani. “Each acquisition or investment is the result of greater evaluations and reflections. We have planned a strategy that allows us to focus on our brand identity by excluding complex and expensive face-to-face exhibitions. We will continue to strongly believe in our online presence.”

Both Contini Art Gallery and Studio Gariboldi have similarly strengthened their online presence. Contini noted that she’s taking a more analytical, data-driven approach to social media and the gallery’s virtual sales platform. “With much optimism in 2021 about restructuring market hierarchies and innovation in the industry, we considered new ways of operating,” she said. “Whether for content circulation, sales, or maintaining relationships, an increased reliance on digital channels came as a surprise after the pandemic struck. Online digital presence has been revealed to be the keystone of the buyer experience to increase sales.”

With quintessential Italian verve, these galleries are finding fun, innovative ways to adapt to circumstances beyond their control. As the representatives from Studio Marini wrote, “[The pandemic gave us] the awareness that the rules of the game can change suddenly, from one day to the next, and that the only certainty to cling to is to fully believe in one’s artistic path with coherence, avoiding market bubbles and glittering appearances.”

Ayanna Dozier
Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.