As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to thrust the economy into turbulence, the digital art landscape remains buoyant regardless. A new generation of artists and creatives who grew up in an era of ubiquitous digital technology assume their work should not be limited to a single, physical exhibition space. Accustomed to digital communication, they produce pieces that collectors can take anywhere they want. This approach to art-making comes in response to recent developments in the art market and more significant changes in contemporary society.

The annual 'Online Art Trade' report by Hiscox was published this month revealing encouraging statistics on the state of the online art market for 2020 and beyond. The Coronavirus pandemic has boosted online sales, and the organisation predicts the growth in digital sales is permanent.

The report's findings are based on responses from 552 art buyers surveyed by ArtTactic during September 2020, with the aim of the survey being to explore how online art buying behaviour has been affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. In light of this evidence, the report is split into two parts. It spans the future of the online sales market, compassionate consumption, and social media importance.

David Hockney, Untitled 21, from the Yosemite Suite, 2010

Social distancing measures have forged a new form of online engagement that might forever alter how the art market and its stakeholders approach their digital presence. Online sales are not unfamiliar to notable art auctioneers such as Sotheby's and Christie's with galleries following suit providing online viewing rooms and virtual sales events with shorter, finite lifespans to mimic the auction market. As sales of artwork have become akin to sneaker drops, over the desk negotiations seem somewhat historic/archaic compared to instant online transactions.

Over the next twelve months, 80% of online art sales platforms expect online sales to increase.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Matthew Burrows set up #artistsupportpledge, raising an estimated £15 million in sales. He acted as a tastemaker for a new audience and buyer engagement, focusing on social causes rather than financial or reputational gain. Thanks to platforms such as Instagram, artworks have circulated through screens and across continents presenting attractive opportunities for the sharing and purchasing works. In the same way that technological advances have opened up the possibilities for people to create digital art - social media and other online platforms have made enjoying, sharing and buying art, more accessible. The consumption of art is broadening outside of traditional mediums.

More than half of any buyers bought artwork online during March to September primarily because they wanted to help artists and galleries struggle during the lockdown.
72% of art enthusiasts visited online sales platforms weekly since the pandemic, a significant increase in browsing compared with 54% in 2019.

The report makes a clear case that 2021 will be an exceptional year for online art sales with online auction house sales already significantly outpacing their 2019 numbers. However, a physical art market will continue to exist in tandem with digital developments. The prospect of browsing art in person still proves to be an attractive opportunity to view works face to face and make meaningful transactions with professional traders.

Nearly half of the collectors surveyed by the report said they preferred going to galleries and auctions in person rather than browsing art online. That's from only 36% who said so a year ago.

Sales platforms such as Artsy, Artnet and Saatchi Art continue to be the leading online marketplaces particularly amongst new and younger buyers emulating a museum-like experience accompanied by a virtual curator aiding art enthusiasts and novices alike to find styles from across the globe and engage with artists through interviews and studio tours curated by these specialist artist networks. In the interludes outside of full lockdowns, a hybrid model of online exhibitions complemented by real-life shows has captured imaginations and injected life back into individual galleries. For those who do not operate as an online catalogue like Saatchi Art, the concept of online viewing rooms has proved fruitful and allowed for better storytelling and communication of a tailored experience for potential buyers.

Sotheby's Live Auction

Hiscox's findings evidenced the fact that the Coronavirus has kickstarted the long-awaited digital transformation in contemporary art sales. No longer will we have the joy and pain of crowded art fairs and gallery openings, dealers will have to find new ways to create the buzz that makes us have to by now for fear of losing twenty-first-century treasures. The online art market has been riding on the back of an overall boom since the financial crisis in 2009. The global Coronavirus pandemic has proven the market's adaptability in the face of economic and political uncertainty. The online art market's future is guaranteed, although the shape remains a mystery we are yet to unravel.

Written by
Electric Artefacts

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