The art world has been on a bumpy ride through the pandemic.
Government-enforced lockdowns have had a profound, material impact on the industry; the lifeblood of the arts are in-person events, both exhibitions and art fairs, and the suspension of these led to severe losses, with little government provision to protect the hardest hit freelancers that make up the majority of art world workers.
But at an institutional level, there have also been success stories. Christie’s and Sotheby’s both saw their global sales exceed $7bn (£5.3bn) in 2021, while the rise of the NFT culminated in the eye-watering $69m sale of "Everydays" by digital artist Beeple in March.
There is caution around the broader direction of travel for NFTs and given how new they are it is difficult to form a definite idea of how well they will retain their value in the longer term. The explosion of the NFT and digital art trend through the pandemic serves to demonstrate how the pace of adaptation and evolution across the art world is picking up.
The art market as a sector is ripe for change, and we are entering a period of time where we can expect to see new revenue streams within the industry really begin to take off. It is a somewhat morbid idiom across the sector that many of the most valuable artists are all dead ones, but the broader external factors at play, including the pandemic’s impact, might be beginning to shift the dial.
There is still money to be made in the art world, but the rules of engagement have changed. Not only has there been the effect of the pandemic to contend with, but Brexit has had a significant impact, particularly on imports and exports.
Many feared that Brexit would add barriers to art through transport, logistics and packaging, creating cultural isolation. When we left the EU, our free trade agreements were impacted, meaning the costs of purchasing and importing art from abroad significantly rose.
Taking this wider context into account, the value of emerging, local artists has never been higher, and is set to rise further still.
Art, as with all sectors, is also beholden to the changing attitudes of investors, and particularly the proclivities of younger, emerging investors. That Christie’s – an auction house that dates back as far as the mid-18th century – was behind the record Beeple sale is indicative of the evolution this sector is experiencing.
This is being driven by the aforementioned external factors, and by a growing interest in purchasing artworks and collections from entities that exist outside of the traditional art world.
Corporates and government bodies’ interest in art is also intensifying. In a post-pandemic world where the focus is shifting towards attracting people back into offices, and back into the City, art and emerging artists represent an attractive option.