November 24, 2020

The 2020 Art Market

The art world is experiencing a necessary evolution and expansion in 2020. Nothing replaces the experience of standing in front of an artwork, feeling its aura, and hearing its story, yet the art world has been thrust into the world of digital viewing rooms, online sales, and price transparency like never before. While shut down, galleries and auction houses found new ways to stay connected to collectors by staging virtual exhibitions, developing content, and hosting Zoom panels, initiatives that galleries had on the back burner for years. The upside: viewing art is made more accessible through virtual options and price transparency has been embraced. Buying art online is not a new concept; Gagosian sold a Cecily Brown online for $5.5M in 2019. Yet, it has generally been a resisted concept until becoming a necessity.

This time last year, we would have attended dozens of art fairs across the globe, riding the endless merry-go-round of fair-after-fair. Now, almost all fairs have now paused and (many of us) have taken a collective breath. Dealers, galleries, advisors, and auction house specialists have had to lean into the digital and figure out how to translate the storytelling of artworks online, followed up by an old-fashioned phone call and emails. What we have found is that privately existing collectors make up three-quarters of online sales and are comfortable transacting into low six-figures online. However, the auction houses tell a different online story and have seen multiple seven figure bids and sales, including an online bidder from Asia for a Francis Bacon that sold at Sotheby’s for $84.5M in June 2020. In this same Sotheby’s sale (the first since lock down), the art market took a giant sigh of relief when it totaled $300 million USD, signaling that collectors still had a heartbeat. High net worth collectors have demonstrated that they’re still comfortable buying at $250,000+. It wasn’t until the cliff of the election that we started to see jitters at $4M+.

Beyond the shift to digital, collectors have continued to demonstrate a keen interest in collecting cross-category, which is not surprising, unless it’s a dinosaur. In October, Christie’s placed STAN, the largest and most complete fossil ever found of a T-Rex in their Evening Sale, alongside Picassos and Pollocks. It sold for $30.8M against an estimate of $6-8M. Similarly, Sotheby’s placed three Alfa Romeo’s, an automotive triptych from 1953, 1954, and 1955 that resemble something from The Jetsons, in their Evening Sale, fetching $14.8M. Just as Lizzo described herself to Letterman, collectors are multi-faceted. They love beautiful things that move them and tell a story regardless of designated genre.

While the highest echelons of the market are buzzing, it’s important to recognize young talent, especially MFA students who graduated this year. There are so many gifted artists out there and it will be my pleasure to share the work of Hangama Amiri in the next artREAL article. Stay tuned!

Joan Mitchell, Untitled (1979). Courtesy of Phillips. This piece will be offered as part of Phillips’s upcoming 20th century and contemporary art evening sale on December 7th, 2020 with an auction estimated of $9 to $12 million.