Macroeconomic factors can also have an effect on sales climates, though the correlation is far from direct. “Your art collection isn’t like a 401(k)—you’re not valuating it every couple of months,” said Schiff. Still, as COVID-19 continues to paralyze the global economy, many are speculating about its effects on the art market.
A recession doesn’t necessarily signal that it’s a bad time to consign art, however. According to some experts, when the economy slows, art may continue to see steady market demand. “It’s very psychologically complicated,” said Engelen. Having worked in the industry for the past 30 years, he’s experienced everything from the dot-com bust to the 2008 financial crash. “It’s hard to generalize, but we’ve all seen that if the global economics are bad, generally the offerings are just smaller. It’s not that there’s no market—there’s just no sellers. There’s always buyers, specifically for the top pieces.”
Still, it’s hard to change people’s moods. “When people run, most everybody runs—even when they have no reason to be nervous,” Schiff said. “There are very few people who have the stamina to be moving forward in this kind of down market, but this is really when you should be moving forward. Confidence can really drive product.”
Leon Benrimon, a director of modern and contemporary art at Heritage Auctions, echoed Schiff’s sentiment. “Most people we’re talking to are holding onto their works,” he said. “To my mind, that doesn’t make sense because the art market is still strong now.”
Anticipating the long-term financial strain that this pandemic could create, Benrimon predicted that as things get more dire, there could be a massive rush to sell. “The market will dry up between now and the fall and then there will be a flood of works on the market as people are forced to sell,” he said. “It’d make more sense for people to buy and sell on a more even keel.”
Of course, the surest safeguard against market conditions, be they good or bad, is having truly exceptional work. “Great material fetches great prices in any kind of market,” said Engelen. “For exceptional pieces, it doesn’t matter. Art uplifts people and these collectors are there for the long run—this is part of their lives.”