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The Art Market: What Has Changed, What Should Stick

Anita Choudhrie

28 July 2020

Many collectors may be wondering whether now is a sensible time to be investing in art. Collector Anita Choudhrie, who founded the Stellar International Art Foundation in 2008 with her family's private collection, thinks that the coronavirus has created a new and intriguing landscape for art investment, which she explains in this commentary. The last few months have certainly shaken up how art is being viewed, bought and appreciated, and some market places have found bouyant new audiences online.

Over the next month, we will be looking at how this important wealth symbol and evolving asset class has managed during the first half of the year, and talking to those in the industry about what adaptations are making the market, worth around $70 billion, more resilient and accessible. In this curtain raiser, Choudhrie shares her observations
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Over the past decade, a significant number of state subsidies for arts organizations, galleries and museums have been cut. As a result, most institutions now rely on contributions from commercial companies or philanthropic donations in order to boost their annual income.

However, during any period of economic instability, people are more cautious with their money, including spending and investments. For example, whilst over £8 billion is donated by individuals across the UK to charitable institutions each year, amid the current uncertainty, this is expected to drop by 29 per cent.

Naturally, this significant shift will have a huge impact on entire art ecosystems, affecting artists and galleries, as well as the great number of other people who make a living from the community.

Yet it is during periods of significant upheaval that art and philanthropy can offer their greatest contribution to society, bringing people together from across all walks of life and stimulating the human spirit through shared appreciation.

With this in mind, now is a crucial time for collectors to be supporting the delicate art ecosystem wherever possible.

Several auction houses and galleries have set up charity sales, offering collectors a unique opportunity to purchase credible art at incredible prices, whilst doing their bit to keep the market afloat. A recent example was the online auction held in May by art dealer Danny Katz in conjunction with Sotheby’s. The sale comprised 140 pieces, with Katz commenting; “The estimates for some of these things are ridiculously low and hopefully they will go higher. But there are opportunities for people to buy beautiful Scandinavian art, 19th century art, Modern British art, Renaissance sculpture…top objects at very reasonable prices.”

It is unlikely that the prices of the most established artists will significantly drop, but as COVID-19 forges on, prices across the board are likely to start falling. Pieces which have been overpriced will be recognized as so, and their prices will alter accordingly. These market shifts offer collectors an opportunity to pick up artworks which were previously unattainable.

Aside from this, the pandemic is also offering the chance for anyone with an active role in the art world to be instrumental in much-needed industry change.

Philanthropic contributions to the arts have long been associated with gifts from wealthy individuals or large foundations. As a result, class and wealth have set up a divide in the art world, barring the masses from fully engaging in the close-knit community. Additionally, the fine art market continues to be stagnant when it comes to the type of artists who have the biggest market share. Out of the topmost profitable artists, the majority are white and male.

Since 2018, Stellar International Art Foundation has put additional resources into supporting female and minority artists, by giving them a platform to display and promote their work. "Despite the pandemic, our work in this area has continued this year. In March, we held our third annual event in support of International Women’s Day, this year to celebrate the work of emerging artist Adia Wahid, whose focus on algorithms and technology has become even more relevant during the pandemic. Some galleries are also using this time to tackle the industry imbalance by selling the works of more established artists and using part of the funds from these sales to buy the works of more junior artists in need of backing."

Anyone who follows the world of art will be aware of the amazing innovation that the industry has come up with in order to adapt during the crisis. With galleries and auction houses shutting their doors, and art fairs being postponed, they have been quick to adapt to using new technologies to continue operating to the best of their ability. The pandemic may be wreaking havoc on the world, but it is also providing the long-needed incentive for the art industry to reflect on how it engages with society more broadly and how it embraces change.

Not only is this acceptance of technology helping the industry to weather the crisis, it is also acting as a powerful democratizer. Artists are using lockdown to set up their own websites, to curate their own shows and display their art on social media, enabling them to engage directly with potential buyers and to continue creating pieces in response to this anxious time.

Additionally, online initiatives such as the #artistsupportpledge are encouraging artists to put their work up for sale for less than £200 apiece. Searching the hashtag, you will see some fantastic artworks available to buy from emerging artists for significantly less than what they would usually cost. Schemes like this are helping to make art more affordable and accessible to everyone, democratizing a typically elitist industry. The truth is that everyone is capable of some form of philanthropy, and by embracing this narrative, the art industry will continue to attract new investors to support its growth and continued success.

With the global economy currently disrupted and with no clear indication of when "normality" will resume, it is understandable that collectors may be treading carefully with their next investment. Yet as we know, art has long proven to be a stable investment, often outperforming other asset classes and weathering the most difficult of global financial storms. According to a Statista report in 2019, the global art industry was valued at $67 billion, a stark contrast to the art market’s $39 billion evaluation in 2008 and 40 per cent decline between the recession years of 2007 and 2009.

Despite this strong resolve, it cannot be denied that COVID-19 is an unprecedented event which will continue to have far reaching effects. For many galleries and museums, the pandemic hit just as they were preparing for the busy summer season after the quieter winter months. With incomes down across the board and doors still closed to the public, philanthropic donations have never been more vital in supporting art ecosystems.

Of course, every collector’s situation is different, but there are definitely bargains to be had across the entire spectrum of the art market; whether you are in the fortunate position of being able to invest in fine art, or are considering making your first purchase from the emerging category.

I would encourage art collectors old and new to recognize this period for what it is; a momentous time which, with your support, could lead to a vital democratization of the industry - your next purchase might not only be a financial investment, but a significantly cultural one too.  

About The Stellar International Art Foundation
Established in 2008, The Collection is internationally known for its content, coverage and activities globally, and it is a particular champion of female artists and feminist art. The foundation comprises around 600 works dating from the late 19th Century to the present day, including international artists and ranging from sculptures to paintings. It distinguishes on individual talent rather than regions and gives an insight into the cultural viewpoint of individuals with diverse understandings of the world.