Katie Warren/Business Insider
The art world is known for its ritzy galas and glamorous dinner parties, which are a large part of its appeal to affluent art aficionados. But all of that changed when the pandemic hit.
As galleries, auctions, and art fairs move online, the industry is adapting to the digital market.
But many are still preparing for blowback caused by the global market turbulence.
Business Insider spoke to five people in the art world to see how they’re holding up in the pandemic and what their hopes are for the industry’s future.
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The week of March 9, the famed auction house Christie’s sent out invitations to an evening art lecture scheduled for that Sunday, March 15. But just two days before the event, the invites were retracted, and Christie’s announced it was closing its offices throughout the Americas, Europe, and in the Middle East.
This was a signal that the art world, which had still been in full swing in early March, was about to come to terms with a once-in-a-century crisis: the coronavirus pandemic.
“This has been an unprecedented period of disruption in the near 255-year history of Christie’s, and the auction industry will certainly experience a financial impact, just as nearly all industries will,” Jennifer Zatorski, president of Christie’s America, told Business Insider.
That disruption is perhaps illustrated best (and most jarringly) by the change at Pier 90 in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. The weekend of March 5, it was the site of the prestigious Armory Show, an art fair that highlights 20th and 21st-century art.
Just a few weeks later, Pier 90 hosted USNS Comfort, a US Navy hospital ship treating the massive overflow of sick COVID-19 patients amid the city’s coronavirus outbreak.
In the span of just a few more weeks, the art hubs of the world — like New York City and London — became coronavirus hotspots. Museums closed, art fairs were canceled, auctions were postponed, and tens of thousands of people died.
“We were in New York on, like, March 8th through the 11th, shaking hands and kissing and doing deals,” former art consultant Hilde Lynn Helphenstein, also known as art world meme-maker extraordinaire Jerry Gagosian, told Business Insider. “There have been some major readjustments.”
The art world, like all other industries, had no other choice but to adapt. But it hasn’t been easy.
To see how the industry is faring, Business Insider spoke to five key art players around the world — the online platform Artsy, Christie’s, the millennial art curator Lawrence van Hagen, Hilde Lynn Helphenstein, and artist Enrique Martinez Celaya — to see how the pandemic has impacted them and what changes they’re hoping to see in post-coronavirus art world.
Keep reading to find out what they had to say.
The coronavirus is set to have what Jennifer Zatorski, president of Christie’s America, calls an “unprecedented” impact on the art world. Even as galleries and museums host popular virtual tours and online auctions, many physical places that have closed will probably never open again.
Lawrence van Hagen, an art curator, advisor, and founder of the pop-up art shows “What’s Up,” told Business Insider that really, only the concept of art itself is poised to make it through the pandemic fully intact. This is because people will always make art, regardless of economic situations. Therefore, the craft itself is always safe.
But that’s about it, according to van Hagen.
From the artists who make art, to the galleries and museums that show it, to the collectors who buy it, and to the fairs that present it, all must come to terms with the fact that the art world will probably look different after the pandemic. Places that do not have robust incomes — like the $3.6 billion endowment the Metropolitan Museum of Art receives — are at risk.
In fact, an ongoing study by the Americans for the Arts found that US arts and culture organizations have already lost over $5 billion since late March because of the pandemic.
The Americans for the Arts surveyed more than 11,000 organizations to see how they were coping during this time. More than two-thirds of the institutions surveyed predict the crisis will have a “severe” or “extremely severe” effect on their business.
“Many people, as well as the stock market, seem to think the worst is behind us, but my impression is that we are in the early stages of the pandemic, and its effects are going to magnify over the next few months,” Enrique Martinez Celaya, an artist based in Los Angeles, told Business Insider in May.
Even the Met is expecting a $100 million loss this year, as it announces mass layoffs.
Maurizio De Mattei/Shutterstock
Other big names, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the Modern Art Museum in North Adams, Massachusetts, have laid off over a hundred employees, according to Art News.
Typically, museums in the United States are funded by commercial activity rather than government backing. The Sotheby’s Institute of Art noted that, unlike many museums in Europe, which started from royal collections or are backed by their governments, commercial business is what usually keeps American museums afloat.
This means contributions, fundraising, merchandise and licensing, and education programs. Admission fees often make up a small proportion of museum revenue. But even as the doors have shut, these institutions must maintain restoration labs, care of their collections, and pay insurance premiums to protect the art, along with thousands of other unseen costs.
“Galleries, some small museums, and a significant number of alternative spaces will not survive this period, which is a terrible loss,” Martinez Celaya told Business Insider. “The pandemic also has had a chilling effect on collectors, but it is too early to tell whether these changes are permanent or not.”
Source: New York Times
For now, the art world has gone digital — and for some, that’s a good thing. Artsy, an online art marketplace, said they saw a 92% increase in e-commerce sales in April, and interests from galleries have increased by 60%.
Artsy, an online platform for discovering, buying, and selling fine art, told Business Insider it has seen a massive uptick in e-commerce sales, as more people are spending time online. Artsy was launched in 2012 and connects over 4,000 international partners from over 100 countries — galleries, auction houses, art fairs, and institutions — to art lovers around the world.
Artsy CEO Mike Steib told Business Insider that the company is taking advantage of the surge in online activity, and said the virus is bringing the overdue digital transformation that the art world has needed for years.
“I see galleries putting more of their time and energy into managing their digital channels, uploading works,” he said. “They’re just spending more of their time and energy on the online channels because their offline channels are currently unavailable.”
Specifically, Steib says Artsy has seen a 200% increase in sales volume year-over-year and a 60% increase in applications from galleries looking to join Artsy. The platform also reports a 50% increase in the number of works uploaded per week by galleries, when compared to just 4 months ago.
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