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What’s in Store for the Art World in 2021?

· Art Market

As we enter a second year of living in a pandemic, we teeter between doubting the future and the promise of a return to normalcy. In 2021, just as it did in 2020, the art world will undergo significant fluctuations. In the current situation, finding alternative solutions, taking into account social movements and transparent business practices will be this year’s big topics. Let Artsper break down for you the new trends to watch closely.

1. What immediate steps were taken against the unprecedented crisis?

Some months ago, we had no idea of the events that would follow after the announcement that a flu-like virus was spreading quickly. Today, the impact of coronavirus is felt as much in our personal lives as it is in the world economy. Certain sectors have been particularly affected, notably the cultural sector. Cinemas, concert venues, theatres, art galleries and museums have been closed and reopened several times. Today the future is uncertain, as is the situation for the most vulnerable operators in this domain. Nevertheless, the length of the crisis has forced the sector to reinvent itself and bring alternative ways of accessing art to the wider public stuck at home.

The deserted courtyard of the Louvre Museum on May 25, 2020

Virtual exhibitions

The majority of galleries and museums have gone in the direction of virtual visits to exhibit their collections online. This is the case for the Musée d’Orsay, the National Museum and even the museums of the Vatican. These moves online have encountered clear success during the two lockdowns. For example, 8.4 million visits were recorded on the Louvre’s website between the 12th of March and the 21st of April 2020. While the establishment of these virtual exhibitions has created certain costs for institutions, this investment will certainly prove to be very useful in the long term. Bearing in mind also that moving online offers certain advantages, such as much easier access to culture. Even if the artworks can’t be seen in person, their viewing is now open to all. It equally allows institutions to update their online database, drawing up an inventory of all their exhibited artworks, which could be useful in the future.

Concepts from pioneering galleries, such as mixing virtual reality and even augmented reality are emerging. For example, the platform Vortic offers sustainable solutions for exhibiting artworks in XR (Extended Reality). Of course, this concept is difficult and costly to implement for art galleries, and so they go through these specialized companies.

Online sales platforms

Websites selling art online like Artsper were essential in 2020 as they provided a real solution to the accessibility crisis. This investment, significantly less complex than developing online exhibitions, is a way of continuing to sell despite the closure of physical sales points. Besides, Artsper allows galleries to showcase their exhibitions, to create temporary virtual exhibitions and benefit from significant visibility thanks to more than 500,000 visits per month to the website. With the lockdowns and the huge increase of traffic on its platform, Artsper has seen an increase in sales of 40% in 2020.

Finally, the year 2020 has proved the importance for galleries of creating an effective digital strategy, notably on social media. Instagram for example, the number one network for images, has become a real way for artists and galleries to reach collectors and showcase their works.

Unusual exhibition spaces

Shops, being almost the only open public places thanks to their essential status, have become an alternative to cultural spaces. The trend of installing artworks in department stores already existed before the health crisis but it has really established itself in 2020. It is a powerful trend, which will continue to flourish in 2021. L’Amazone Érogène, the enormous work by the artist Prune Nourry, exhibited at Le Bon Marché in Paris is a perfect example of it. It wasn’t Le Bon Marché’s first attempt; other established artists have exhibited there before, such as Ai Wei Wei, Joana Vasconcelos and Leandro Erlich. These installations of large size give a heightened visibility to artists all while offering an artistic, sophisticated image to the department stores housing them. Furthermore, the artwork in itself is conceived in relation with the atypical architecture of these commercial structures. Thus, the customer experience is enhanced, while offering an original public showcase of art open to all. The new year will undoubtedly give rise to other innovations and installations, especially in public places or outdoors.

L'Amazone Érogène, Prune Nourry, at the Bon Marché, Paris

2. The social movements of 2020 shaping 2021

At the start of last year, while the pandemic raged, a wave of police scandals enraged the United States. The death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and numerous other African-Americans during police operations roused the masses and millions of Americans protested. Thanks to social media, the Black Lives Matter movement soon crossed the American borders and spread across the entire world like wildfire. This spread then started huge protests in other countries, notably in big cities such as Paris, London and Berlin. Structural changes were demanded by protesters and movement leaders, which politicians could eventually no longer ignore. With the election of Democratic party leader Joe Biden in the American presidential election, significant changes are awaited in the next 4 years which will undoubtedly have consequences for the art market.

Inclusivity in the art world

Evidently, a social and political movement of such importance has direct consequences on all economic sectors, not excluding the world of art. However, the art sector is often pioneering in terms of social advocacy and inclusion. Numerous gallery owners are already pushing the boundaries of "typical collectors" and are opening up to other collector profiles. Also Millennials, young, politically engaged and novice collectors, have become an influential and growing part of the market. Artists from different backgrounds and origins have also made a notable arrival in collections of prestigious galleries and large national museums. At the same time, debates concerning the restitution of looted works of art, particularly to Africa, continue to rage as public mentalities slowly change.

Black Lives Matter event in Turin on June 06, 2020

Women are equally coming to the forefront of the art scene, pushed by the bravery and determination of certain women among them, as influential as they are committed to their cause. Galleries like Gallarty on Artsper, created for women by women, showcase artists who otherwise might not have been able to gain the necessary visibility for their talent to be recognized in the art market. Others, like the gallery Addis Fine Art in London or African Arty in Paris, showcase artists of African descent.

More and more art galleries and museums are organizing exhibitions by artists from minorities underrepresented in the art world, which still remains in large part white and male. In January 2021, the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University in the United States announced the launch of their Asian American Art Initiative (AAAI) with a monumental artwork by Ruth Asawa and 141 pieces from the Michael Brown Collection. One of the first of its kind, this initiative has the objective of acquiring, preserving and exhibiting art from Asian culture in the United States. Thanks to these initiatives, the art world is taking a step forward on the issue of racial and gender equality.

Art gets involved with politics

This powerful situation of social demands and changes inspires numerous artists. They regularly use their medium of choice as a platform in order to express their opinions. As is the case with Shepard Fairey (Obey), who in his work defends the causes he holds dear, like antiracism, protecting the environment and freedom of expression. All while keeping in line with his graphic setting and characteristic style, the street artists has created several frescos very committed to his causes some of which was vandalized by other graffiti artists at the end of December 2020, adding tears of blood to his famous Marianne to protest against government policy. Lidia Kostanek, of Polish origin, evokes through sculpture the issues, expectations and contradictions in relation to the female body. Some of her works, such as Femme Fontaine, are a powerful reminder that the fight for women’s rights will always be a battle. This observation is all the more topical since abortion laws have been called into question in some countries in 2020.

Marianne Pleure, misappropriation of the fresco Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité by Obey, Paris

Thus, the strength of social demands plays a driving role in the overall diversity of the art world, both on the side of the actors as the works represented. We expect and hope that the new year will be marked by advancement towards a horizon of equality and inclusion.

3. Commercial practices in full transformation

Urgency and transparency

The art market is one of the most secretive because it is one of the least regulated. Remember the rumor that Damien Hirst's For the Love of God, a human skull covered in platinum and encrusted with diamonds, sold for 74 million euros in 2007? That buyers were a group of investors, of which Hirst himself was a part, with the goal of maintaining his spot at the top of the artist rankings. This type of practice would not have taken place if the art market was controlled in the same manner as any other. In effect, some operators wish that the regulations might be put in place to limit problems regarding the payment of artists. The protection of artist’s rights is necessary to support the production of art, yet, the rights of the creator and the artists’ intellectual property are sometimes put in danger. Furthermore, the assistants and artisans in art are not always given the credit they deserve. The opacity of the art market is therefore a problem which will certainly be tackled in 2021 with the goal of improving conditions for different operators, especially since transparency can be a real advantage for art galleries.

The monopoly of mega-galleries

Another problem, aggravated by the current crisis, is gaining notoriety in the art world: mega-galleries. They are destroying smaller galleries, without necessarily even having the desire to do so. In effect, the art market is marked by significant growth, which should be exponential in the coming years. Although this evolution is globally positive, it indirectly threatens some galleries. Also, mega-galleries grow rapidly thanks to solid financial means and an extremely well developed network. Admittedly, it’s a good thing for the visibility of art in culture and society. However, as 75% of artists are represented by two or three galleries at an art fair, excluding the smallest sellers, then the market is no longer healthy. Competition within the market could be threatened by the presence of oligopolies. A short term risk for the smaller galleries, already weakened by the crisis, and in the long term for the dynamism and diversity of the art world.

It is hoped that in 2021 the art market will continue to fight against underhand practices, and promote instead its very essence: diversity and creativity.

FIAC at the Grand Palais in 2019

In conclusion, despite the ongoing pandemic and social and economic crisis which impact the art market, new perspectives and trends are already taking shape. Past and current controversies and problems have highlighted the shortcomings of the art market, but also the potential solutions to be found. Strong steps have already been taken in the direction of innovation, inclusion and regulation. What are your expectations and forecasts for the art market this year?

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