As the world gradually returns to our new normal, a hybrid world of online art platforms and in-person events is emerging. Despite the many unexpected setbacks of the last two years, the art world is more accessible than ever before.
In 2020, social media replaced art fairs as the third most successful way for galleries to sell art, moving up from sixth place in 2019. Due to Covid-19, galleries have had to utilise online platforms in order to generate sales through numerous lockdowns, and this upwards trend doesn’t seem to be slowing any time soon. What galleries lost in physical visitors they gained in social media followers and virtual exhibition viewers, proving that evolving past traditional methods has a multitude of benefits. The figures don’t lie - in 2019, Sotheby’s saw a total of £58 million in online sales, but this was eclipsed by 2020’s monumental figure of £418 million.
In search of a new audience in these uncertain times, the art world turned to the online space, perhaps for good. There has been a significant increase of online virtual exhibitions due to Covid-19 and the subsequent UK lockdowns. These so-called exhibition “viewings” may lack the personal touch of visiting in real life, but could these be the future of gallery showings? In a time where people feel more comfortable both viewing and buying art from the comfort of their own sofa, this may be the art world’s new normal.
During the pandemic and the resultant lockdowns, our devices were our only connection to the outside world. As Covid-19 took hold, many of us developed a taste for interior design; as lockdown confined us to our homes, more people than ever sought to enhance their living space. As a consequence of this, a new wave of young buyers emerged, recognising the many benefits of a welcoming environment whilst working from home. The millennial generation are comfortable in the digital realm, and made up a significant portion of Sotheby’s clientele who substantially contributed to the auction house’s online sale total of $285 million in the first seven months of 2020. This was triple the online total for the whole year of 2019. Whilst these young buyers have taken to this more accessible style of auction, traditional buyers are yearning for the familiarity of the real world: in 2020, Art Basel’s Art Market Report showed a 22% fall in global art sales to around £37 billion.
Bambi, Go with the Flo, 2020
Woolwich Contemporary Art Fair’s innovative #findartthatfits campaign was the perfect antidote to the decorating bug. Their interactive project invited people to post images of their empty walls to Instagram under the custom hashtag #findartthatfits, as well as tagging any adjectives describing the kind of artwork they are searching for. Organisers would then respond with artwork suggestions from the print fair portfolio, creating an effective contact-free yet personal experience. This intriguing blend of personal and virtual art consultancy is an interesting example of the art world adapting to diversity, making art available to a larger virtual audience.
The innovative online campaigns don’t stop there. The Artist Support Pledge, otherwise known as the #artistsupportpledge, was another initiative that focused on the support of artists during the pandemic. Initially launched to support creatives during the first three-month lockdown, the scheme soon gained traction. This financial lifeline for struggling artists functions as follows: an artist posts their work on their Instagram feed along with the details and price, encouraging potential buyers to get in touch. For every £1,000 an artist makes in sales, they commit to using 20% of their earnings to purchase another artist’s work. This spirit of generosity was infectious, with the scheme becoming extremely successful worldwide; as of 2020, the scheme had generated an estimated £60 million in sales. This revolutionary scheme has helped hundreds of thousands of artists stay afloat during the pandemic, so are these online community-based projects the future of commercial art sales? It seems that The Artist Support Pledge has carved itself a comfortable space in the online art scene, and there’s certainly room to grow.
Despite the financial insecurities and tumultuous lockdowns of the past two years, creativity amongst artists has been thriving. This pandemic has ushered in a new era of artistic expression, with artists responding to events in real time. Covid-19 and it’s repercussions will be immortalised in their work. Adapting to these struggles and utilising the power that digital communities hold opened up the art world to new communities from all walks of life. Whilst global restrictions were enforced, the opposite was happening in the art world. Barriers between countries, classes, and genders have been torn down and a more inclusive art scene has been created. There’s no going back to the pre-pandemic way of living now, but the future of this new art world certainly looks promising.