2021 art industry trends: a glimpse into the present

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We only know one thing: the future is digital

Everyone is tired to hear that 2020 has been the most unexpected year in living memory. For months, we have been suffering -maybe undeservedly- the devastating consequences (economic, political and social) from something that was not made by design. As it has happened in numerous industries, the art market has been yet another victim of covid-19. And, as always, the best -worst- is yet to come.

To find out what the article is about, we must pay attention to the last word of the title: the key concept of trend. As known, the art industry is one of the most changing sectors nowadays. But, in a modern version of Heraclitus’ words, despite its variable feature, it always keeps afloat. 2020 has been a good example of this, also anticipating a year -the current one- in which everything could happen. What is coming next does not go further than reasonable predictions based on 2020 information. As we are not able to predict the future, perhaps it is time to talk about possible trens in the art industry. What is to await from 2021?

To start, say that last year was not as bad for the auction houses as one could think. Go and ask Edward Dolman, the CEO of Phillip’s, why 2020 has been unparalleled compared to other seasons. On December 7th, the leading auction house sold David Hockney’s landscape Nichols Canyon’s for… a lot, being considered Phillips’ biggest sale in New York. So, what do you think? Is selling online for large figures a trend that is here to stay? Probably.

Besides this exceptional case, during the lockdown period, auction houses -just like the art galleries, art fairs, cultural events, museums, etc.- have taken advantage of the accelerated process of digitalization. In the lack of other options, many auctions became virtual; and when it was allowed, was kept the in-person format. But what is wrong with this? The hybrid solution only doubles the opportunities! Indeed, it has been demonstrated that some collectors prefer the digital model to the traditional one. It is like online retail shopping — almost: a click away from acquiring a masterpiece.

What about art galleries? Has it been a good year for them? Not quite. As it has been mentioned before, art galleries and museums introduced or improved their online viewing rooms. Although, as some people say, the aesthetic experience is not complete. Therefore, both kinds of institutions will reopen as soon as possible to offer a “real” and tangible experience to the public. The same will most likely happen to a big number of galas: who will virtually attend The Met Gala if it could be physically celebrated? The answer is obvious. Also, do not forget the small brick-and-mortar art galleries: the struggle to keep up with the fixed costs while not being able to host exhibitions and go to fairs.

Despite all the efforts and optimistic approaches, a great number of art fairs were postponed to later dates, even cancelled due to the global pandemic. Apart from the online alternative, the organizers have opted to hold these events outdoors, as will happen next July in California: Frieze Los Angeles 2021 will spread out throughout the city. How awesome finding works of art everywhere! Let us hope this innovative experience becomes yet another best practice. In theory, all 2021 art fairs are meticulously planned, face-to-face or virtual versions. We have already saved the dates, but… who knows. As we have learned: the future, even the present, is unpredictable. In effect, the development of these events will depend on the timing, geography, as covid-19 vaccination campaigns’ efficacy. Meanwhile, the use of digital technologies to approach art to society is probably the best choice.

Written by
Sara Marin