Fractional Ownership of Art

 

Could economic uncertainty fuel further interest in art investment this year? Or are we reaching the tail-end of the post-covid art sales boom?

 

With inflation in many developed countries running the risk of entering into double digits, and with the post-Covid economic recovery stalling, turbulence has been felt in financial markets in recent months. S&P 500 is down 23% from the beginning of the year, and the more tech-heavy NASDAQ index has dropped 32% in the same period. Even the crypto market has failed to provide a safe haven for investors in recent months, as Bitcoin prices have dropped from more than $61,000 from its peak in October 2021 to around $20,000 today, a fall of 67%. The Economist reported last week that the overall crypto market had plummeted from its peak of $3.2 trillion in November 2021 to less than $1 trillion today.

 

So how has the art market reacted to the bad news this year? Surprisingly well so far. Q1 public auction figures from Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips were up 32% year-on-year from 2021, and Q2 is also set to come in above last year (with sales figures up 28.3% so far, not counting London’s Marquee auction week later this month). But can the art market withstand the reality of the deteriorating economic situation, and if so for how long?

 

Fractional Ownership of Art ArtTactic

Source: ArtTactic

 

Why fractional ownership in art?

New models of regulated investments in art are emerging, with the concept of ‘democratising’ art investment becoming increasingly popular over the last two years.

 

Access has always been a big hurdle in the art market. Firstly, the price inflation in the art market over the last 20 years has moved investment-grade art out of reach for most collectors and investors alike. Secondly, unless you are an insider and well-connected in the art world, the art market can often feel impenetrable and intimidating to those on the outside. Asymmetric information and lack of transparency are frequently mentioned as key challenges. Thirdly, the unregulated nature of the art market also scares many potential investors, and although the recent introduction of anti-money laundering regulations in the EU and US are likely to help professionalize and modernize parts of the art market in coming years, there is still a long way to go.

 

In this editorial on Fractional Ownership of Art, I will explore this phenomenon in more details, and hopefully shed some light on the past, present and future of this evolving investment practice.

 

Fractional Ownership — An old idea whose time has come?

 

The concept of investing in art for purely financial purposes isn’t new. The early generation of art investment funds, from the British Rail Pension Fund in 1974 to the Fine Art Fund in 2001, have attracted interest among investors looking for higher yields and diversification benefits from alternative assets such as art and collectables. The fractional ownership model we see today is simply an extension of the same desire to democratise access to the art market, and the opportunity for the art market to tap into a new type of client base.

 

The term fractional ownership originally became popular for business jets. Richard Santulli of NetJets pioneered the concept in 1986, allowing businesses to purchase shares in a jet to reduce costs. This concept was later introduced to the property industry in the U.S in the early 1990s. These first fractional developments focused on real estate in the Rocky Mountains ski resorts, recognising that people did not want to buy whole homes, which they would use only for a few weeks a year.

 

Market Cycle #1

 

The emergence of fractional ownership in art started just after the financial crisis in 2008. Between 2009 and 2012, the rapidly growing Chinese art market, fuelled by government policies positioning the cultural industry as one of the key drivers for economic growth in China, created the ideal conditions for a new financial product built around the red-hot Chinese art market. These early fractional ownership models were known as Art and Cultural Exchanges and allowed investors to buy shares in artworks that could then be traded on these exchanges. Below is a table from Deloitte & ArtTactic Art & Finance Report 2011, which shows some of these exchanges that were active in the autumn of 2011. However, large price volatility and speculative behaviour led the Chinese authorities to impose restrictions on these exchanges in 2012, forcing most of these to close or transform themselves into something else.

 

Fractional Ownership of Art ArtTactic

 

However, similar fractional ownership platforms also emerged in Europe at the same time. With the entrepreneur Pierre Naquin setting up A&F Markets in Paris in 2011, and SplitArt announcing the same year that they were setting up an art exchange in Luxembourg, that would allow qualified investors to invest in shares of valuable artworks. For different reasons, both of these platforms failed to succeed.

 

Market Cycle #2

 

It would take another 6 years before the concept of fractional ownership in art started to re-emerge, this time on the back of the boom in crypto-currencies and ICOs (Initial Coin Offerings). The Singapore-based Maecenas raised $15.38m through an ICO in 2017 and the firm sold 31.5% of Warhol’s 14 Small Electric Chairs (1980) in 2018. A number of other platforms were set up around the same time – Feral Horses, ArtSquare, Malevich, and Look Lateral, but despite the excitement around fractional ownership as a concept,   the issue around regulation was always going to be a thorny issue.

 

In 2018, the regulatory issue finally seemed to have been resolved, when Masterworks launched its first SEC regulated fractional ownership product with Andy Warhol’s ‘1 Colored Marilyn (Reversal Series)’ from 1979. Although, it would take the company a further two years to gain traction, the company has now more than 120 artworks on their platform with an estimated value of more than $500 million, and is now the market leader in the fractional art investment space. The company raised a $110 million Series A round in October 2021, led by Left Lane Capital and joined by Galaxy Interactive and Tru Arrow Partners, valuing the company in excess of $1 billion.

 

The success so far has encouraged other companies to follow, and Mintus, a UK-based FCA regulated fractional ownership platform announced they were entering the market in April 2022. The company was founded by Tamer Ozmen, previously a senior executive at Microsoft, and is counting former Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith and Brett Gorvy, Christie’s former Chairman and International Head of Post-War and Contemporary Art, on their advisory board.

 

Other regulated fractional ownership platforms have aimed to build their business on the back of the increasing interest in tokenization and the NFT market. Sygnum, a digital asset bank, and Artemundi, an art investment fund pioneer, partnered in July 2021 to tokenize Picasso’s ‘Fillette au béret’ painting. This marked the first time the ownership rights in a Picasso, or any artwork, were being registered onto the public blockchain by a regulated bank, enabling investors to purchase and trade shares in the artwork called Art Security Tokens (ASTs).

 

Fractionalization has also become increasingly popular in the NFT market as prices of many NFT collectables, such as Bored Ape Yacht Club and ArtBlocks have moved beyond the reach of most investors. Fractional.art is an example of one of these platforms.

 

Whilst Masterworks’ initial intention was to use blockchain-technology to record and track fractional ownership in artworks, in the end the company decided to go for a traditional off-chain approach, which was probably a good idea, as other companies that tried to introduce both blockchain and fractional ownership in physical art have not yet managed to achieve the same level of attention.

 

The Future

 

Based on a recent survey for the Deloitte & ArtTactic Art & Finance Report 2021, 21% of collectors said that they were interested in investing in art through a fractional ownership model, with a significantly higher, 43%, of collectors under 35 years old saying the same. The pandemic seems to have been a catalyst for changing attitudes towards art investment, and corresponds to the growth we have seen in both the art market and the fractional art investment industry over the last 18 months.

 

So will the boom in fractional art ownership continue?

 

As the emotional component of art ownership is largely stripped out when you invest in a share of an artwork, the investment behaviour is likely to mimic that of any traditional investment. Bull markets will attract more investors and bear markets will likely see investors running for the exit.

 

What does this mean for the fractional art investment market? The demand is likely to continue as long as the art market remains as robust as it is now. However, so far, the fractional ownership market has been in a honeymoon period, where the post-pandemic art market recovery has fuelled art sales and prices, and most fractional ownership investors are yet to experience the chill of a market downturn, where liquidity dries up and prices fall (yes, prices of art can go down!).

 

To make profit from art, the following ingredients are essential: expertise and knowledge, keeping costs to a minimum, good timing, access to inventory (preferably at below-market prices), access to buyers and the ability to take a long-term view and ride out any down-cycles. Those that were spooked by the financial crisis in 2008 and the pandemic in 2020, would have been better off sitting tight, as the art market showed strong resilience in both cases, and recovered within a 12–18 month period. Recent analysis by ArtTactic looking at artworks with repeat auction sales in recent New York Marquee auctions in May, shows a positive correlation between the amount of time the artwork was kept away from the public market and the return on the investment. Among the 50 lots kept away from the auction market between 10 and 30 years, 49 sold with a positive average annual return of 8.8% (not adjusted for inflation). However, artworks kept away from the market for less than 10 years showed a more volatile performance, with 5 out of 13 lots seeing a negative return (see graph below).

 

Fractional Ownership of Art ArtTactic

Source: ArtTactic

 

 

One of the main challenges for fractional investment platforms right now, is that they are acquiring art at price levels that are reaching a historic high, and if you add the transaction costs to this (i.e. buyer’s premium if bought at auction, fees for regulatory listings, management fees and share of profits, if any), art prices need to keep going up much further before investors can expect any profits. If this doesn’t happen, investors need to brace themselves for the long haul, and hope that history keeps repeating itself.

 


NEW REPORT: Fractional Ownership Monitor – August 2022 

 

This is ArtTactic’s inaugural report on the fractional ownership market for art. The analysis takes a closer look at Masterworks, the leading fractional ownership platform for art. Although the data reflects the strategy of a single fractional ownership platform, we believe the findings are helpful in gaining a better insight into the dynamics of the current fractional ownership market for art, and hopefully help us better understand the future of these investment models. Our aim for future editions of this report is to add more fractional ownership platforms to the analysis to gain a more complete picture of the developments and trends in this emerging art investment industry.

 

If you are looking to have access to the above report and ongoing art market research and analysis – we would be delighted to offer you 30% discount on our annual premium Analyst Pro membership (please use the coupon 30LAB2022).

Quick profits from art investments? Forget it.

Banksy, This is Not a Photo Opportunity (2007) – annual return of 14.7% over 14 years (sold at Sotheby’s New York in May 2022)

 

Inflation figures are heading into double digits, and stock markets and crypto currencies have been in freefall since late March. However, the art market has shown strong resilience so far, and is gaining increasing attention from investors. Social media is currently flooded with art investment related ads, and fractional ownership platforms, like Masterworks and Mintus, are gaining in popularity among a new generation of art investors.

 

Last week we saw the end of the New York Marquee Auction Week, which raised a total of $2.06 billion in evening sales (see our latest ArtTactic auction report). Almost a third of the lots in these sales returned to the auction market for the second or third time. So what insights are these repeat sales giving us about the nature of art investment returns, and what could investors expect from the market ahead? We ran the figures in our latest Auction Resale Report, and here are a few takeaways…

 

Don’t buy at auction if you plan a quick resale:  Art buyers generally don’t like to see art works bought at auction appearing back on the auction block within a 5-year period. Our data suggests that the risk of a loss is significantly higher during this period.  So if you plan to flip the art back onto the market – you either need to source the work in the primary or private market and sell it in the auction market, or buy it in the auction market and hope to sell it for a higher price in the private market. However, this could prove difficult for many ‘trending’ artists, as auction prices are already inflated.

 

Quick profits from art investments? Forget it. ArtTactic

 

 

Art investment requires time: The average holding period for art resold during the New York Marquee auctions was 25.5 years, with 72% of the repeat sales having been away from the auction market for at least 15 years. Shorter holding periods shows mixed results, with 3 out of 7 lots held for less than 7 years selling below their original auction price. Among these was Adrian Ghenie’s The Trip (2016), which initially sold for $6.1 million in May 2021 in Hong Kong, and again for $4.6 million in May 2022 in New York, a loss of 22.4% in one year, despite no apparent weakness in his overall market.

 

Quick profits from art investments? Forget it. ArtTactic

 

 

Blue-chip art shows stable returns: 75% of the repeat sales we studied from the last round of auction sales were from the blue-chip segment of Impressionist, Modern and Post-War artists, with the remaining quarter linked to Contemporary artists. The average annual return for the Contemporary art repeat sales were 7.3% (holding period 12.2 years) compared to 5.3% for Impressionist art, 7.3% for Modern art and 9.5% for Post-War art, with an average holding period of 28 years for these three collecting categories.

 

Art vs Equity: The 82 repeat auction sales in New York generated an average annual return of 7.1% (not adjusted for inflation), with an average holding period of 25 years, whilst the S&P 500 returned 6.6% annually over the last 25 years. Art returns have so far this year given a healthy profit to their long-term owners, and is likely to continue to attract further interest among investors.

 

So if you are looking to invest, make sure you take a long-term view and enjoy the art in the meantime!

 

Health Warning: Studying repeat sales at auction has several flaws. It provides a restricted view of art returns based on a relatively small sample of artists. The data also has an inherent survivorship bias, meaning that the repeat sales we analyse are really based on the ‘strongest’ artists (and artworks) that continue to have an active market (i.e. survivors), and therefore doesn’t sufficiently address the risk of artists falling out of fashion or that lower quality art works are less likely to resell.       

Auction Houses, Friend or Foe of the Young Artist?

Jerry Saltz’s Instagram post from 23 November 2021.

 

Art critic Jerry Saltz took to Instagram to share his anger surrounding recent auction trends. In his post he marks auction houses as the enemy of young artists while galleries, undermined by auction houses, as a friend. This commentary seems shocking at first as auction houses can be a democratizing force in the ecosystem of the art world – allowing greater accessibility to buying art while also supporting more price transparency. The new buying trends at auction include a rise in young artists, female artists, and artists of color. While post pandemic changes can appear to be delivering on the calls for diversity in the art world, looking deeper, I question if these changing trends are really the benevolent forces that they appear to be.

 

During the pandemic, Art Basel’s 2021 Report found that the 2020 global art market was down 20% from 2019. The 2020 sales in London and New York fell 22% and 24% respectively. Lately, this downfall that took place in the height of the global pandemic is reversing itself. Auction houses are seeing great success following the pandemic. As collectors have had an increase of wealth, auction records are being broken at new rates. Blue chip artists are seeing new auction records and the contemporary art market is rising. In major marquee auctions, young and diverse artists are not only being increasingly featured, but experiencing skyrocketing prices.

 

The October evening sales in London — which brought in a total of £130.06 million, 27.1% more than October 2020 – were the first in person auctions in 18 months, an early indication to the success of the November sales in New York. Our research showed that total sales from Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips New York Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening auctions raised an impressive $1.95 billion, with total auction sales just 4.3% short of the record May 2018 sales. Half of the eight New York Evening auctions were white glove, and across all of the sales, only 11 lots were bought in.

 

The ArtTactic report, Post War and Contemporary Evening Sales evaluated the October evening auctions in London and found a rising demand and price for the work of young artists. Here, young artists accounted for 23% of the total sales value, almost double the year prior. Nine of the Top 10 performing lots (hammer price to mid-estimate) were by this generation of artists and 9 of the 13 auction records were achieved by them as well. The recent Marquee auctions in New York exacerbated the trends set by the London October auctions, as seen in our Marquee Evening Sales report. Here, younger artist’s auctions were pushed to record levels and guarantees reached a record high. The total sale value for artists under 45 was more than $58 million and the average prices of these artists were 84.7% higher than the prices seen last autumn. Our recent NextGen Report explored this rising success of these emerging forces in depth. These young artists had an impressive 185.5% increase in auction sales in the first half of 2021 and are seeing their wet paint sales (artworks sold at auction within 3 years or less of the creation date), on average, doubling their mid presale estimates. Overall, there is rising success and desirability surrounding these artists.

 

The Deloitte Art and Finance Report evaluates this growing demand for a younger generation of artists at auction. The change in buying trends could be the result of the rise in millennial collectors, who represent the highest spenders on art in 2020 (Art Basel). Some experts believe that this growing attention on a younger generation of artists “will likely benefit more younger artists of color, as well as young female artists that have traditionally been under represented” in the auction market. ArtPrice’s recent findings positively reflects this speculation – they found that the top five young artists (born after 1980) in the first half of 2021 were Matthew Wong, Avery Singer, Salaman Toor, Ayoko Rokkaku, and Amoako Boafo. These young artists and their recent auction success exemplify the strong and diversifying shift in what collectors are buying. Of these five artists, four of them are people of color, the other, Avery Singer, is a female. These artists hail from America, Canada, Pakistan, Ghana, and Japan reflecting a more global representation and display of artists at auction.

 

It is reassuring to see the rising prominence of a larger and more inclusive group of artists and seems as if change is coming from these auction results. Yet, evaluating these recent sales, there is cause for concern. Are the changing trends at auction truly supporting a diversified market? Or, could this dramatic shift cause more harm than good for both young artists and the market overall?

 

To better understand the cause and effect of the shift in post pandemic auction results, we must explore the latticed structure of the art market. Blue-chip artists and artworks are known to hold and steadily rise in value, despite market fluctuation. This is because they have established careers, critical acclaim, gallery representation, and strong exhibition history. Because of this, blue chip artists are sought after at auction and retain high prices. Auction houses, which function in the secondary market, seek to sell this work as they are motivated by profit. The auction houses have a responsibility to both their buyers and sellers; they are trusted to sell quality work for the best possible price that will also appreciate in value. The artist is lacking from this model and rarely profits from auction sales. Meanwhile, galleries mainly function in the primary market. They work with artists to sell their art and place it in collections, museums, and exhibitions which will overall positively affect and help to grow an artists’ market. The ecosystem of the art world has its weight  distributed differently across each of its pillars, and young artists rely on galleries to uphold them.  Helping support and develop their artists careers is a contributing factor to the opaque practices galleries operate upon. By not publicizing prices, galleries will never have to lower the price of an artist – something that is damaging to the career trajectory of an artist. Remaining exclusive in who they sell to can not only help land an artist in the hands of an important collection or museum, but also help avoid buyers who intend to quickly resell the work for profit (also known as “flipping”).

 

The market of a blue-chip artist is well established, and selling at auction won’t likely cause a negative disruption in their sales. This is not the case for young artists, who have not yet had the time or space to reach this same level of establishment. Their markets are still fragile, and any type of auction results, good or bad, can have an overall lasting and possibly detrimental impact. A positive auction result can lead to a negative result for the artist: price inflation at galleries and an unsustainable and speculative market that the artist must try to feed. The term “red-chip”, coined by Art Newspaper writer Scott Reyburn, applies to the current auction market and how “buyers continue to be only interested in the latest thing”. Reyburn sees the prices rising for an “ever-changing” list of “fashionable new names” such as these young artists. Deloitte’s report speculates that a driving force for this obsession with youth could be “collectors and investors looking for the next big thing” which would push these artists’ “prices far beyond justified limits, given the stage of these artists’ careers” which ultimately negatively impacts the artist.

 

The recent auction success of young artist Flora Yukhnovich provides insight into my fear of these auction results. Recently, her Rococo inspired work “I’ll have What She’s Having” (2020) sold for £2.2 million, almost 40 times its £60,000 low estimate at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction. Looking at this October auction, Art Price questions if her desirability stems from her being relatively unknown and therefore not on the books of prestigious galleries. This means that auction houses can offer her and similar young artists’ work without any price reference. In less than two years “I’ll Have What She’s Having” has already been sold twice; initially sold by Parafin Gallery to a private collector, and then resold by Sotheby’s. This work was essentially flipped, a tactic where speculative buyers quickly resell artworks for profit, and a tactic that could crash a young artists market. As Saltz sums up, “[Auction houses] now circumvent galleries and place the work of younger artists at auction” forcing galleries to raise their prices to reflect the market.

 

While these recent sales are helping gain attraction and attention to marginalized artists’ careers, it is done in an unsustainable way that could negatively impact the artist. These sales don’t purely represent support for a diverse market, but capitalize off of the artists. The buying tactics follow what’s in vogue, and can lead to harmful long-term results for the artists’ and an overall speculative market. Of course, this is not all buyers’ intention, and real change and desire is one underlying driver of the shift in trends that others are trying to profit on. But, to find lasting impact from this momentum, we must be critical and dig deeper, evaluating why these trends could be surfacing and what they implicate. Contemporary art is not solely a profit producing asset but a cultural commodity. As we see a growing and changing pool of collectors buying contemporary art, an artist-centered approach to buying must be reinforced.  The shifting collector base must continue to seek out new, interesting, and diverse art without reducing it to “the next big thing”.

[Art] History Repeats Itself: A Warning on the Current NFT Market

Beeple’s HUMAN ONE, 2021. Kinetic video sculpture with corresponding dynamic NFT. Sold for $25 million (hammer price)  in the 21st Century Evening Sale on 9 November 2021 at Christie’s in New York.

 

Following the historic March 2021 sale of Everydays: The First 5,000 Days by Mike Winkelmann, commonly recognized as Beeple, NFTs quickly became the hot topic of the art world. It seemed as if everyone in the industry had an opinion on them — some raving about incorporating the crypto world into art, and many skeptical, seeing it as a way of reducing art to a purely financial asset. Established artists spoke out against NFTs, such as David Hockney, who called them “silly little things”, following the historical trend of the traditional art market initially rejecting technological innovation. April 2021 saw a 39% drop in sales compared to the previous month which, for a moment might have indicated NFT skeptics were correct. However, today’s market has proven otherwise. Sales are back up — August 2021 levels peaking at almost 6 times higher than previous highs seen in March 2021.

 

This recent momentum in the NFT art market has led to a rise in recognition and acceptance. The traditional pillars of the art world — auction houses, galleries, and museums — many of whom originally rejected and wrote off the digital tokens, are making moves to incorporate NFTs into their art businesses. As a result of this momentum, the traditional art world is beginning to play catch up, finding new ways into the NFT market and access to the expanded clientele the crypto world offers. Many established artists are adding NFTs to their oeuvre including Damien Hirst and Urs Fischer. PACE Gallery has established a platform solely dedicated to the showing and selling of NFTs, signifying blue-chip acceptance of the digital medium. Computerized images and crypto collectibles such as Crypto Punks and Bored Ape Yacht Club are gaining momentum as well, creating communities around themselves while new ways to view and purchase the tokens are being established.

 

It seems pointless to add my opinion on whether NFTs are “good” or “bad” or try to speculate what I think their future role and place in the market will be. What I can do is investigate their current place in the market, expanded upon in our second NFT Art Market Report, and offer a warning based on a comparison to the current trajectory of this emerging market and that of the traditional art market.

 

Although NFTs offer a new client base for the art world, this market and its interactions with the traditional market sectors deserves further investigation. Client strategy likely plays a large role in the acceptance of NFTs by artists, auction houses and galleries. Alex Rotter, Christie’s Chairman of Postwar and Contemporary Art in New York tells Fortune Magazine that for the sale of Everydays: the First 5,000 Days the auction house signed up more new clients than ever before, indicating that NFTs offer an “entirely new category of buyers”.  Looking at the press release following this groundbreaking Christie’s sale we can see that 91% of the bidders were new to Christie’s, becoming clients of the auction house for the sale of an NFT. This is important to understand as Art Basel’s 2020 Market Report shows that buyers between the age of 40 and 64 currently represent the biggest segment for dealers and account for 62% of buyers in 2019. The Art Basel report finds that the Contemporary art market has the largest share of young buyers, with only 21% of collectors categorized as Millennials. In comparison, 58% of the participants in the Beeple auction were Millennials, exemplifying the expanded client base that crypto art offers. Tapping into the Millennial pool will be a very important move for the art market as the Art Basel 2021 Report found that “Millennial HNW collectors were the highest spenders in 2020, with 30% having spent over $1 million versus 17% of Boomers”. In May, Sotheby’s became the first auction house to accept cryptocurrency, a move that Stefan Pepe, Sotheby’s Chief Technology Officer said will help the auction house find new “ways to expand our client base” by taking the necessary steps to accommodate their interests.

 

Auction houses aim to introduce new markets to their clients and cross market categories. This can be seen by Sotheby’s July 2020 cross-category evening sale ‘Rembrandt to Richter’ which included Old Masters, Impressionist, Modern, and Contemporary art in one auction, introducing lots to buyers who may have never previously sought them out. This tactic of crossing market categories has been incorporated by all the large auction houses, and is being used to tap into the market offered by NFTs. One example is Christie’s inclusion of the NFT crypto collectible “YUGO LABS” which is part of the Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT series in their recent evening sale in London. Further, twelve of the ninety-four lots sold at Sotheby’s recent Contemporary Art Day Auction accepted bids in cryptocurrency, offering a physical object to accompany the NFT. This strategy gave new bidders something tangible as to ease their way into the crypto-verse. The NFT market is fueled by a new generation of collectors and investors that the traditional art world is eager to retain.

 

It may seem like the new market of wealthy young collectors have the potential to diversify the art market and broaden the art buying clientele, but closer examination proves otherwise. The exciting space for growth offered by the crypto-sphere has led the art world to take steps to incorporate non-fungible tokens into their vocabulary but dissecting these sales further shows that these tactics have not led to a merge of markets. While the spaces for buying art may be moving to merge the traditional and NFT markets, the buying groups remain different creating a heterogeneous mix of fine art and crypto art buyers. An investigation by The New York Times dissects the market gap between “speculative buyers” who “flock to crypto art” and the traditional blue-chip collectors who hold back from this market. Surveying more than a dozen collectors, the New York Times finds that the majority of established dealers and their collectors have more reluctance about NFTs and what they can offer, keeping them away from the market. These art world personnel have “concerns about the quality, ownership and authenticity of NFTs”. Meanwhile, those who invest in NFTs traditionally belong to the crypto community and have historically made and/or spent their wealth on cryptocurrencies. For example, Chris Ciobanica, known as SilverSurfer to the community, has collected more than $10 million worth of NFTs. Despite his heavy involvement with the digital art community, Ciobanica says “I’d never collected traditional art” before his involvement with the digital tokens. Out of the top 10 most expensive NFTs sold, the owners who are not anonymous come from the crypto world rather than the art world.

 

Tina Rivers Ryan, a curator at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo says to the New York Times that “There is a sense that a parallel art market is emerging that comprises a new set of artists and a new set of collectors”.  The “parallel” market of NFTs which offers new artists and collectors eerily mimics the flaws of the established art market. Although they pull from two different client bases and sources of wealth, their demographics are the same. Without bringing attention to these shortcomings, the potential for this new and innovative space for art risks falling victim to the long tradition of race, gender, and geographic biases that the canon of art history presents.

 

The NFT art market, generating over $3.5 billion in just the first 9 months of 2021, addresses art world problems such as ownership of work, provenance, authenticity, and artist royalties. This model may be able to overcome some of the key issues found in the traditional art world, yet perpetuates its problematic foundation. Less than 16% of all NFT artists are female, which is less than the 39% of female artists represented by dealers working in the primary market in 2020 (according to Art Basel’s 2021 Market Report). Further, more than 73% of the creators are from England, America, or Canada. The majority of these artists live and create work from North America, mainly the United States which accounts for 91% of artists. Looking at the global distribution of NFT artists on the platform NiftyGateway the discrepancy in demographics is apparent. Of the NFT creators, less than 4% are from Africa and only 2.4% of the artists are from Latin America. Creators from the Near East are even more minimal, making up only 0.03% of the artists and contributing only 0.01% of the total sale value. Breaking up the global distribution by country, the top represented countries are all European or American, with Argentina breaking the trend generating the tenth highest total sales value on NiftyGateway.

 

The traditional art market has a history of overlooking players who fall out of the narrative of the West. It is rooted in a history that has only validated white males from Europe and America, and builds off of a canon that marginalizes those who challenge this norm, establishing a foundational bias for who could be considered an artist. There was no space or opportunity for those who fell outside of this norm which transitioned into artists today being “othered” and reduced to representations of their difference rather than creators in their own right.

 

Currently, artists and art institutions struggle to address the colonialist roots that lay the foundation of the art world. As a result, underrepresented groups continue to be neglected and marginalized. The NFT world has existed for seven years, but only became popular in the last two. In its short time the new creative sphere has begun to mirror art history’s exclusionary chronicle, but it has the opportunity to deviate from the foundations laid. We must stop and think if this is a history we really want to continue to follow, address the current state of the market, and ask what steps we can take to break from this trend. The digital world of NFTs offers more accessibility and amenities for art as well as a new place that has the potential to create an equitable ecosystem. To truly capitalize on this potential, we must bring attention to the current failures and avoid continuing along the path set out.

Guarantees and Burned Works: Takeaways from Changing Auction Trends

Detail of Andy Warhol, One Dollar Bills (Backs), silkscreen ink on linen.

 

As the weather starts to cool down, and the world continues to open up, the Autumn auction season begins in London. With the top houses – Sotheby’s, Christies, and Phillips – all holding prominent Contemporary Art day and evening auctions in mid-October. These parallel events have a variety of works to lure buyers and excite the market including Sotheby’s 3 extraordinary Gerhard Richters which have been in the Helga and Walther Lauffs Collection since their creation in 1985 as well as the notoriously shredded Banksy, now called Love is in the Bin. The energized re-emergence of an in-person art market coincides with Frieze week in London, all marking that the world of art is ready to function in person rather than virtually. Discussing the recent fair, Artsy noted that there was an “undeniable energy of the fair, driven by a high caliber of international collectors and the opportunity to reunite with colleagues from around the world” showing the excitement for the return to normalcy. With the recent shift of all aspects of the world, including the art world to fit these new remote models, and the recent move back, it is interesting to evaluate the current strengths and weaknesses of the art market, particularly auction houses as they transition back to live sales.

 

In an art market that has historically thrived off of the lack of  price transparency in an attempt to maintain exclusivity, the recent practices of auction houses have  functioned as a democratizing influence in the world of art. Price details are the driving force of these institutions — catalogues are published showing an estimated value of an artwork, providing a range of the expected high and low price threshold. Works put up for auction have a reserve price which reflects the agreed upon baseline for what an artwork will be sold for, and it is not uncommon for lots to largely surpass their expected value. When a work is put up for auction, many price databases and research firms take note, collecting information including hammer price and bidding interest, making price information accessible to the public. This access to information has increased art market transparency in many ways. However, it is also important to consider auction houses’ other practices when it comes to selling art – particularly when art fails to sell.

 

Unsold works at auction, typically referred to as being ‘burned’ or ‘bought-in’ are one aspect of the auction market often overlooked as evaluations on the market focus on the trends reflected by what sells. It’s a Pass Unsold Artworks at Contemporary and Post-War Auctions shows the value of taking an alternative look at the auction market and provides an in-depth analysis on the unsold works from evening auctions based on data collected from 2015 through the first half of 2021. From this report, we gather the rising strengths of the market, open questions into the growing market practice of auction guarantees, and explore the effect of guarantees on the overall auction market.

 

Unfortunately, we do not know what happens to the majority of unsold artworks after their failure to sell at auction as many will go on to sell privately or through other auction houses such as Bonhams or regional auctions (which our research does not cover). These works may end up with their guarantors, or remain off the market entirely. However, our research does evaluate unsold lots that were put back up for auction at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips in day, evening, and incubator sales channels providing insight into resale trends at the top end of the secondary market.

 

The stats of burned works are not promising when they come up for resale at auction.  The majority of works that finally sell, do so at a lower value. Our research found that burned lots are often re-sold at a different auction house and in a different location. This could indicate the consigner losing trust in an auction house after failure to sell the first time, and/or attempting to press their luck in a new market. It’s a Pass found that the majority (64.7%) of lots that were originally bought-in at Christie’s were re-sold through a different auction house while Sotheby’s retained 64% of sales. The analysis also found that 42.9% of bought-in works were resold in a different location.

 

Waiting to re-auction a previously burned work could be the best option for a consigner considering our findings of a very small success rate for these previously bought in works. To increase the value when re –auctioning a lot, the data proves that longer wait times are more lucrative. Those who re-auctioned only 1-2 years after their work was burned on average lost 54.7% of the works value, while those who waited 3-5 years only saw a 26.8% drop in price. Out of the lots that were resold, 8.2% of consignors were lucky enough to re-sell their burned work at a higher value than the original mid-estimate.

 

The practice of guaranteeing artwork is becoming increasingly popular among auction houses and It’s a Pass illuminates why. Guarantees on artworks are correlated to a strengthening art market, which can be as enticing of a practice as it is controversial.  In the last 6 years, the amount of lots that go unsold has decreased from 15.3% in 2015 to only 6% in the 2021 reflecting an overall strengthening of the auction market. This recent rise in success has a large financial gain for both consigners and the auction houses as the estimated missed sales value (based on mid-estimate prices) of unsold works at Post-War and Contemporary evening auctions decreased from $244 million to $71 million. This decrease in burned lots is inversely proportional to the recent increase in guaranteed lots from 15.1% in 2015 to 23.5% in the first half of 2021. This data shows why guarantees have become increasingly popularized and utilized, but as Eileen Kinsella of Artsy sums, their use can “distort the art market” while offering “auction houses and consignors a useful tool to hedge their bets”.

 

On one side of the spectrum, auction guarantees reflect an overall strengthening of the auction market. A guarantee allows the auction house to reassure a consigner of their risk by ensuring the sale of the artwork before the auction has even begun; an attractive opportunity for the seller to retain a minimum price on a lot no matter the result of the auction. The promise of a guarantee can also help sway consigners to choose one auction house over another and help an auction house build a system of trust with their consigners, promising a minimum value to the artwork being placed on auction. Amanda Lee contributed her opinion on guarantees in Secrecies, Guarantees, and Securities in the World of Auction Houses for the Center for Art Law website that guarantees give the seller comfort since they will have the knowledge that their “work will sell no matter the outcome of the auction, and if the work sells for more than the guarantee, the seller might enjoy an additional percentage from the upside” exemplifying the attraction of a guarantee. The promise of a sale can help entice sellers to consign their works, and reflects a strengthening contemporary market.

 

Despite the strengthened trust between auction house and seller, their ability to help retain sales and decrease the rate of failed sales, and their role in strengthening the contemporary auction market, the practice of guarantees remains debated as they can be seen as a deceiving tactic that can provide a risk for the auction house, affect the market and create and air of mistrust. In 2018, Anna Brady in The Art Newspaper questioned the practice of auction guarantees and their role in the market. She compares guarantees to a combination of a risk hedge and speculative gamble, and find that many guarantors have a direct interest in the market. Auction houses do not provide information on who has financial interest in a lot – be it themselves or a 3rd party guarantor. If a 3rd party guarantor is involved, there are no rules in place stopping the guarantor from also bidding on the lot, which could either increase the final hammer price or stir excitement around the work and alleviate the guarantor of their purchase. If the guarantor does end up with the artwork, it is typically below the estimated market value and often with a financial fee from the auction house. The auction house therefore benefits, the consigner gets their agreed upon price, and the guarantor receives an investment they found worthwhile. If a 3rd party guarantor is involved, they are typically the top clients of an auction house, and as noted by senior market editor of Artsy, Eileen Kinsella, ”It is arguable that these client-guarantors are being offered preferential treatment by the auction house; they are giving them access to these ‘fee deals’, and the ability to pre-purchase a work, in advance of the sale”.

 

Alexander Forbes, Artsy’s consumer marketplace strategist, discusses the need for more buyers in the market and tension between the art market’s resistance to calls for greater transparency, stating “the argument for “price transparency” isn’t about buyers at all, but rather the threat of external regulation on art sales and an ethical obligation to greater openness in a market that caters to the global elite”. The practice of guarantees reflects this evaluation, as it reduces transparency in the market and continues to benefit a wealthy few. Along with their lack of openness, guarantees are also not all positive for those involved. If an auction house is left guaranteeing, rather than outsourcing to a 3rd party guarantor, the auction house falls responsible for the payout if the work does not meet the reserve. This famously happened in 2007 when Christie’s and Sotheby’s had to payout $63 million worth of guarantees.

 

While guarantees do help to regulate the market, and create a relationship of trust, they also leave many questions for those not directly involved in the practice, presenting regulatory gaps in art and auction practices. Guarantees support the strengthening auction market, provide a sense of assurance for the seller, and help an artwork to avoid the doom of being burned at auction which could negatively impact future sales and the artist’s overall market. They not only provide a possibly lucrative investment for the guarantor but also help auction houses to remain competitive and retain clients. These positives reflect the findings in It’s A Pass of decreasing unsold rates in Post-War and Contemporary evening sales. But there are still questions around this practice and what they could mean. Do 3rd party guarantees leave bidders in the dark, artificially enlarge the market, and create an insular network within auction houses while unfairly advantaging an elite few?  Or does the practice help to fight off the volatile and grim market that exists for previously bought in works which just may not have been able to sell at that particular place in time?

An Emerging Art Market Lead by the Next Generation

Detail of Dana Schutz, ‘Lumberjacks’, 2020, oil on canvas.

Schutz is ranked as the #1 Top Artist in ArtTactic’s Top 100 NextGen Artists Report 2021. 

 

To understand the contemporary art market, it is important to evaluate the emerging stars and forces in the field. The younger generation of artists represent a changing market and provide insight into where the contemporary art market is heading. By evaluating the careers of the younger generation of artists we can understand changing aspects of the market.

 

The Top 100 NextGen Artists Report 2021 follows up on the inaugural 2018 report written in partnership with JLT (now Marsh) exploring the most successful artists in the world under the age of 45. While our 2018 report explored the top 1,300 young artists chosen by a variety of qualitative and quantitative data, this year’s report narrows our focus and explores the emerging artists of 2021 using auction sales to select the Top 100. Growing from our 2018 report, we evaluated these young artists’ by paying special attention to the cultural factors that contribute to their commercial success.

 

The Top 100 report reveals a changing market, growth in the economic role of women, and a strengthening market outside of the Western sphere. The report also utilizes cultural data to establish important factors that contribute to the success of a young artists’ career such as the choice to immigrate for school, the choice of attending university (if at all), and the choice of location for practice. The most notable finding of the Top 100 report is the rising prominence of Asia as a center of art, competing with North America and Europe. While the report shows a continued stronghold of male artists from Europe and the US, and the continued prominence of New York and London, we can see a growing and separate center emerging in Asia, specifically Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. In 2018 only 4% of artists in the Top 100 were born in Asia while our report shows major growth with 26% of artists born in Asia or the Pacific. Of the Top 100 NextGen Artists in 2021, those born in Asia and the Pacific now surpass artists born in Europe. This places Asia and the Pacific as having the second highest percentage of birth, ahead of Europe with 15% of births and following North America with 46%.

 

The data supports a strong correlation between location of education and the final location of an artist’s work. Artists need to work in a location that financially and culturally supports the creation of art, resulting in many artists migrating for their education, and inevitably, their career. While New York remains the most important artistic hub, more artists being born and studying in Asia has resulted in Beijing becoming the third largest hub of artists in 2021. It is important to note that all of the Chinese artists of the Top 100 continued their education in China and 92% of artists from Asia remained in their country of birth; the highest rate of artists remaining out of any location. Compared to 2018, when Beijing saw below 5% of artists, Asia now has 19% of the market, closing in on Europe with 22%.

 

Looking at the role of auctions, Asia continues to have a growing and prominent role in both value and volume of lots sold. While the main gallery hubs remain in North America and Europe and the majority of artists are represented in New York or London, Hong Kong had a higher total sales value than both New York and London combined, with 52% compared to New York with 36% and London with 12% of sales.

 

These findings show a large rise in prominence of the Asian market, although it remains very insular. Artists from Asia tend to remain in Asia, and spend money on art produced by Asian artists. Meanwhile half of the artists from Latin America migrate, typically to the US, and the majority of European artists move to a different country from the one they were born in and continue their career in this location. The choice of Asian artists to remain in their country of origin, as opposed to artists from Latin America or Russia moving to the US or UK, is a result of a growing art economy and ecosystem within the continent, creating a virtuous circle of the creation of art, and the support of an art market that can maintain itself economically, institutionally, and culturally.

 

Art and culture journalist Vivienne Chow states in  Artnet that the biggest boom in China  “has come not from the global marketplace, but rather from the tremendous economic growth right across its border, in mainland China”. The art market in China is directly linked to the economic success of the country, and is separate from the global market, and finding success on its own terms. The growth of wealth in China has allowed for the creation of more centers of cultural importance. There has been a rapid growth of the institution of art within China. The Chinese Art Gallery Industry Report in 2017 found that Shanghai had 770 art galleries, surpassing London’s 478. Shanghai’s artist district, the West Bund, is also growing with the number of galleries and museums booming, and is largely supported by the government.

 

The Top 100 report also provides data that displays the changing role of women in the Top 100 international artists. While women are playing a larger role overall, our reports show that there is a widening gender gap in the upper echelons of the market despite a growing place for these women economically. While in 2018, 39% of the Top 100 artists were female, this year’s report shows that women now make up 30% of the top artists. Despite this decline in representation, women make up 11 of the Top 25 Auction Artists from 2020-21 and auction sales by younger female artists have increased by 72.8% in the first half of 2021. Auction houses such as Sotheby’s have taken initiatives to increase the visibility of female artists. In May they hosted their first cross category sale, (Women) Artists, devoted solely to work created by female artists.

 

Renowned institutions are also taking it upon themselves to support NextGen female artists. Almost half of the women represented in the Top 100 artists have international endorsements such as a solo or group exhibition and institutional endorsement from global players including the Tate, MoMA, MoCA, the Guggenheim, and the Whitney. There is a large discrepancy between gallery representation of men and women, and the Top 100 report unsurprisingly found a bias of blue chip galleries favoring male artists. Meanwhile, of the Top 100 NextGen artists, the majority of women are represented by incubator galleries, which are important locations for young artists to foster their career.

 

While the Top 100 report shares some not so surprising  findings such as  New York remaining a central market hub and male artists’ markets dominating over female artists’ markets — the nuances of these findings provide important insight into a changing future. These statistics display an emerging artistic market outside of the hegemonic West. An artistic hub in Asia is gaining momentum and can compete, and at times surpass, Europe and the US. While Artists outside the Western sphere typically migrate to New York or London, the Asian market continues to grow on its own and support itself, keeping both its artists and money within. The data also shows opportunity for financial growth for women, as well as larger spaces for representation and commercial success.

 

Looking broadly, it is obvious that much change still has to come. The ‘global market’ is not so global if artists must move to centers such as New York or London for their education and to find success in their career. Markers of artistic success, such as the establishment of ‘global’ blue-chip galleries, remain located in Europe and North America and the most notable museums and biennials follow suit. Although women far surpass men in taking the preliminary steps for artistic success, with almost one-third of the Top 100 female artists earning a Master’s in art while less than half of men do the same, the number of artists in the Top 100, amount of solo shows, and blue-chip  gallery representation still remain dominated by men. As sociologist Taylor Witten Brown sums up in Artsy, “Only two works by women have ever broken into the top 100 auction sales for paintings, despite women being the subject matter for approximately half of the top 25”. Not only does representation need to grow, the support from the market does as well.

Celebrating 20 Years of Art Market Research and Analysis

Image: Detail of Ed Ruscha, 20-20-20, 1962.

 

This summer, ArtTactic celebrates its 20th anniversary!  To commemorate this milestone, we would like to take a moment to reflect on the success, challenges, and immense growth our company has experienced over the last two decades.  Since ArtTactic’s genesis in 2001, the art world at large has undergone remarkable changes that have both influenced and been influenced by ArtTactic’s quest for market transparency.  Traditionally, the art world has been defined by its opacity and the informational chasm dividing industry insiders and outsiders.  Until the early 2000s, even those considered ‘insiders’ – namely art buyers and sellers – willing to do their due diligence, had a hard time finding the right market intelligence to inform their multi-million-dollar consumer decisions. This is exactly the asymmetrical gap in information Anders Petterson saw that led him to create ArtTactic in 2001 amid the data revolution – a movement that created sweeping and lasting change for the art market, not to mention the global economy.

 

After several years in the data-driven industry of financial services, Anders decided to apply the economic models, analytical tools and data-collection strategies he had accumulated, to the art market.  Having spoken to many of his former colleagues about their lack of interest in art investment, despite increasing evidence of fine art’s enticing financial returns, he determined that it was largely due to a lack of knowledge and confidence as a result of not knowing how to access data, information, and research on the market.  Thus, ArtTactic was born with the goal of creating more transparency in the art market through education and information.

 

Around the same time, data-providers such as Artnet and Artprice had launched online databases, which aggregate public auction results, in the pursuit of market transparency.  Consequently, Anders saw an opportunity to build on these services by focusing on in-depth analysis and exhaustive summary of artists and their markets.  While there was immediate curiosity from art world professionals and patrons alike, data-analytics remained an unfamiliar and unwelcome concept to many stakeholders in the industry.  When asked why market data was initially dismissed by so many, Anders reflects, “At the time, decisions were not made on the basis of data and research, but on relationships, networks and trust.”  Thus, an ‘outsider’s’ opinion – as Anders acknowledges – was received with some skepticism.  However, over time, after witnessing the power of analysis and comprehensive market reports, critics began to realize the value ArtTactic could bring to the industry as a benchmarking tool.

 

For Anders, a pivotal moment occurred in 2004 when he fortuitously met one of the world’s foremost contemporary art collectors in a lift during the ARCO art fair in Madrid.  A brief conversation led to a second meeting in Miami later that same year, which would ultimately bear ArtTactic’s initial Art Market Confidence Report – launched in May 2005.  To this day, Anders remembers the quote given to him by that encouraging collector, “[ArtTactic] is an idea whose time has come, the question is why no one has thought about it before.”  His kind and supportive words spurred on the development of ArtTactic and in Anders’ expression, “kept [him] going for another 15 years.”  Numerous other inaugural reports such as the first Art & Finance Report in 2011 in partnership with Deloitte, the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report in 2013 and the Art & Philanthropy report published in 2017, broke new ground and paved the way for transparency in new areas of the art market.  Since those initial reports, the mechanics of ArtTactic – from the way we present information to the global reach of our network of experts – have changed and improved.  However, the spirit of the initial reports and our guiding question – how can we use data to educate, communicate, translate and present to audiences beyond the traditional art world? – remains the same.  More than ever, ArtTactic has faith in the power of data and visualization to broaden the art market, increase transparency and facilitate accessibility among stakeholders, both old and new.

 

Over the years, ArtTactic has maintained a small, productive and highly motivated team of art world professionals with diverse backgrounds.  From the outset, Anders sought to foster a work environment that would allow people to develop their own interests and projects under the umbrella of ArtTactic.  For instance, in 2009, Adam Green joined the company with the vision of creating an art industry podcast, which emerged as one of the first podcasts to discuss art market trends and has produced over 600 episodes to date.  The free exchange of ideas has catalyzed some of the most pioneering and innovative features ArtTactic offers.  Anders remarks on his philosophy, “In order to survive in a world of selling art market information, I believe in a small, agile set up;” the kind of set up where success and failure sometimes go hand-in-hand.  “It’s become part of our DNA,” Anders admits when asked about how challenges and failures along the way have shaped the company, “I see failure as an integral part of our organic growth, and the only way to improve and find out what works.”  It is seeing beyond market participants’ current needs and forecasting future needs that drives interesting and relevant research.  By remaining self-funded and self-sustaining without external investors’ judgements for the sake of growth and scale, ArtTactic has always created space to take risks, experiment and innovate.

 

As we head into a new phase of the art market, defined by momentous change and uncertainty propelled by the global pandemic, data, information and research will become exponentially more valuable with time.  While ArtTactic’s vision endures, our challenge will be adapting to support stakeholders as they transform and modernize their art businesses in the face of significant technological and demographical shifts.

 

When asked about the next 20 years, Anders hopes to “continue the current momentum and enjoy the discovery of new research domains,” as well as “meet and collaborate with great people, and play our small part in making the art market a better and more exciting place to engage with.”  In this next decade, we also see an opportunity for ArtTactic to focus more on inequalities in the art market and research new models of philanthropy aimed at finding solutions for creatives to develop sustainable practices both inside and outside of the traditional art market.

 

Finally, we would like to thank you – our loyal followers, contributors, and clients – for your continued support.  Cheers to the next 20 years!

 

The hardest question for 2021: What do we really, truly want?

Amoako Boafo, The Lemon Bathing Suit, 2019, Oil on unstretched canvas

 

Desire is more desperate in this new age. In the shared ocean that is the COVID-19 pandemic – not to mention the accumulated years of far-right extremism, political turmoil and climate crisis – our longings aren’t trivialities but life-crafts. So what are we looking towards to keep ourselves above water? Now riddled with politics both personal, financial and social, there is a new depth to sales figures, and what do we really want? is a harder question than ever.

 

It is figurative painting that has seen the most unstoppable popularity in auction and private sales. The hottest tickets in contemporary art right now are those painting representationally – Hernan Bas and Salman Toor’s queer characters, Toyin Ojih Odutola and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s fantastical black figures, Shara Hughes and Jonas Wood’s decadent interiors. Similarly, of Artnet’s most visited artists in the past 5 months, 7 out of 10 of them are photographers, and mostly of people. There might be something in this need for reality; of course we are skirting around abstraction when our brains are overfull of upended information. Still, these paintings don’t have to be literal. In fact most of them depict dreams – both Yiadom-Boakye and Odutola’s subjects are purposefully fictional, Bas and Toor also paint in a story-tellers dreamscape – so it is perhaps a desire for something recognisable but not too real, that doesn’t too deeply question our beliefs.

 

As we saw a 511% increase in online-only sales over the past year, it helps that figurative painting translates well onto screens, though it’s dominance in art history might suggest that it has always been the most popular form of visual art. Still, there is something new to the painting that is dominating sales now. It’s no Dejeuner sur l’Herbe. It’s current practitioners are carving a new genre as they bring previously unrepresented bodies front and centre. A large proportion of the painters rising now are black painters depicting historically under-painted black people.

 

But the rise of these artists is a dangerous ascent. Demand for their work is increasingly frenzied. Odutola saw an increase of 1,390% in sales between 2015 and 2019, with 38% of all auction lots produced 3 years or less before the sale. Amoako Boafo too has had a notoriously high-speed trajectory characterised by repeated ‘flipping’ of his works at auction – the phenomenon of selling work on the secondary market at a significant price jump, often causing a temporary imbalance between an artists economic and cultural value. The story of his Lemon Bathing Suit (2019) is a particularly cautionary tale; bought for $22,500 by Stefan Simchowitz, he then flipped it at auction for a 3,815% return at $880,971. Only the buyers were collaborators of Boafo and were helping him to take control of his market in exchange for new works. Just two months later those same gifted works were back on the auction block.

 

At these kinds of figures, the popularity of artists is as much financial as aesthetic. As Nate Freeman wrote of the rise of black artists; ‘where some see a movement toward a fuller story of art, others see a financial opportunity’. There is a similarly disconcerting flipping trend when it comes to a contemporary artist’s death, or their proximity to it. Matthew Wong, after his death in 2019 aged 35, has entered the top 10 contemporary artists of 2020 by sales value. The demand for his work has been rabid, with one dealer speaking of a client ‘who’s going to have a heart attack if he doesn’t get one—he will pay, like, any price’, that price being a phenomenal $4.5 million at Christie’s late last year up from a $700,000 high estimate. The 92-year-old painter Alex Katz is also anticipating major market growth as he approaches his final years. ‘He’s painting in the last period of his life and he’s doing it at full speed’ his new gallerist, Gavin Brown has said.

 

There is something disconcerting about these market movements. The endless cycle of flipping, the voracious appetite for scarcity following an artists death, the perverse speed at which their sales figures can rise when they receive the right attention. There are individuals trying to catch up with the market, particularly when it comes to artists of colour. Young curator Destinee Ross Sutton for example deals work with a meticulous contract; 15% of all resale proceeds should return to the artist, no auction resales will transpire for three to five years, and artists retain first right of refusal for that period in case of a private sale.

 

The work being made by these artists should stand apart from its prices, and they deserve every attention they are receiving. Only what their popularity highlights is that desire is never simple, but is always marred by tokenisation, fetishisation, economics. The rise in attention to artists of colour post-2020’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ moment doesn’t necessarily feed back into the social good that is supposed to support, but straight back into dealers and collectors pockets. It is worth thinking about; how popularity dictated by social movements can tangibly feed back into those movements and individuals, most especially on the secondary market.

 

So considering how much of the demand for figurative painting (and especially black figurative painting) is self-determined by increasing sales figures, it is doubtful how much our desires can reveal the collective mood. Over the past thirty years, art has become as much an investment asset as a personal belonging, so our endorsement is less aesthetic than economic. It would be foolish to read into the popularity of dancing portraits, young men in the rain, luxuriant greenhouse interiors, a need for human touch or a collective loneliness. In actuality the demand for a Lemon Bathing Suit doesn’t come from the need for a poolside vacation but the dollar signs floating behind the figure’s sunglasses, the promise of making six-figure profits on your purchase.

 

What remains to be seen is whether this is the swell, crest or tumble of a trend, since we’re too deep inside it to know. Trends in the art market look like this; fast, frenzied and full of flipping. It is a new time for art history when the most memorable names are associated with high price tags, so our desires mean more now to the shaping of visual arts than they ever did. Artists are no longer going it alone in ramshackle studios, so we must think about how our appetites change history.

 


 

Stella Botes is a freelance art critic and writer, find more of her writing via her Instagram @gallerina_ldn

After JPEGs: How We Buy Art Now

 

Is COVID-19 a catalyst or a switch? Changes have swept nearly every industry on the globe, and most of that change has taken the form of a mass adoption of technology in lieu of conventional in-person practices. The question is especially pertinent when applied to the art market, in which all that feels novel is actually just neglected, and questions are raised as to whether the rush to digital is a migration or vacation. That things have changed is evident, yet it is plain to see how this change reflects more traditional values than at first appears, and that we are finding it difficult to stretch our imaginations beyond our screens.

 

The usual annual trade reports have this year been published during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has greatly effected their coverage and accuracy as the world continues to change. Both the Hiscox/ArtTactic July Report, Part One: The Online Art Trade, and the Art Basel UBS mid-year survey chose to publish their findings while still in the eye of the storm – making every statistic, whether sales are up or down, where people are buying and how – a surprise. Still findings remain relevant to the fast changing and fluid situation at hand, painting a picture of the art market before the dust has settled. There is now no baseline, the bottom has been taken out from under so many galleries, and they’re standing on new ground.

 

What commentators are now referring to as the post-COVID ‘landscape’ is quite an apt metaphor. We are looking at something like a garden – there are large trees, established modes of selling artwork online that have stood quietly for decades, then there are the fast-blooming flowers, hastily-planted and heavily-tended new techniques for art commerce, and finally there are small withered stalks, attempts past and present to nurture a digital presence that withered without attention.

 

Of those flowers that are blooming are the astonishing sales from Gagosian’s #ArtistSpotlight initiative, rounding off their series with the sale of a Jenny Saville painting for an undisclosed price upwards of $5 million. The Spotlights focused each week on selling one work by one artist, using targeted social media posts to build anticipation, desire and fever. Ever the bellwether for the rest of the industry, Gagosian’s studied avoidance of the Online Viewing Room (OVR) said something funereal about the format.

 

For some years now galleries have maintained a ‘room’ on their websites, unkempt and collecting dust until its readoption as everyone fell to the familiar in the early pandemic. What was already a neglected and unexciting program underwent an attempted revival as invites and advertisements to exclusive OVRs appeared everywhere. But it was soon learnt that four walls does not make a room, and after all of the inverted-comma vocabulary one is still left with a screen-sized scroll of JPEGs.

 

So, having patience with regards to selling seems like a good idea, though it’s a patience that is rarely afforded to smaller galleries. Such galleries cannot stretch their budget to hire more digitally-fluent staff or consultants (though the priority for this might be changing), nor can they afford to wait and strategise until their next sale, so a format which required little more than a site re-design became the mercy-bench of many.

 

And sales were made. At the OVRs of art fairs, handfuls of works were sold for millions of dollars, armfuls for hundreds of thousands. The 2020 mid-year  Art Basel UBS report showed that the share of online sales rose from 10% of total sales in 2019 to 37% in the first half of 2020, though the statistic owes more to the forces of circumstance than genuine appetite. Only, as will be seen, despite its name the art market isn’t entirely about selling, and a desire has remained to create platforms that don’t just sell but which inspire, which support artists and ignite audiences.

 

Enter the initiatives that have been working in this space for years. Selling art online is not new, only the openness to it is. These are the metaphorical oak trees that have paid attention to the potential of digital long before we all were forced to. Take Daata, a digital platform for video and new media art that began as a commissioning site only to find demand developing its business into a streaming service, gallery host and now an art fair. Of this post-COVID rush to digital, Daata’s founder David Gryn says ‘we are all in a state of dread, panic, fear and anxiety. So it is our duty to share something positive you feel you can offer others’.

 

Still, though the commercial art world is rushing to the innovators that have been working on solutions for years – David Zwirner working with Vortic to create virtual-reality experiences, major auction houses relying on their digital departments to stage an online-only circus of auctions, Hauser and Wirth and Thaddeus Ropac joining Daata’s new fair – these digital platforms still find themselves bending to the templates of traditional art commerce. Gryn describes the process of building Daata as a matter of trust; ‘It’s taking its time but people are starting to recognise that the value model is really there’ he says. Just as Frieze was an established magazine for many years before it launched its fair, Daata had to make itself familiar and comfortable to the traditional art world before it could approach with new solutions. To quote Gryn, ‘it’s easier to get eyeballs when you fit to what people already know’.

 

So, is the newly-popular digital art world a fresh start or will it look just like what we knew before, un-regulation, ugliness and all? Daata has timed their new fair to the traditional art fair calendar, which is one example of the ways in which digital art commerce is tapping into the Pavlovian responses of its audience. In theory, there is little to distinguish online galleries and auctions from platforms like Saatchi Art, even (whisper it) Etsy and eBay, so in order to maintain a sense of luxury galleries are raising prices, cultivating prestige. Art Basel has raised its ‘booth’ price, reinstating the hierarchies in which access to space comes at a premium. Gagosian’s Spotlights run on culturing a scarcity mindset in its buyers, a ‘get it before it’s gone’ mentality. What many have hailed as a great democratisation of the art market that comes with scrolling from your bedroom might be a fantasy, as it’s a much smaller step to imagine pay-to-enter viewing rooms, interminable ‘waiting rooms’ just like the non-existent waiting lists for works, freeport storage replaced by harddrives hidden in a bookcase.

 

Nonetheless, there is room for optimism. With technology in every corner of our lives, we have learnt a helplessness that restricts us only to the tools we are given, yet there are people imagining ways to create new commercial options that feel fresh. One of those is Zien, a WhatsApp-based platform for selling art, and its founder Peter Holsgrove. It functions via a text broadcast, from which clients receive notifications of its ‘drops’, the first few editions of which can be claimed for free. The art takes the form of ‘scarce editions’; a digital file of an artwork, with a licence to produce it and instructions on how. In creating Zien, Holsgrove says he wanted to counter the exclusivity of the art world, closing the chasm between participation and observation by allowing anyone to collect. It feels novel, fresh, to participate in dealing and collecting from your phone, with no sense of its being a substitute for real-world connection.

 

With that said, what is a common theme of these digital projects is the humanity of them all. It may sound counterintuitive at first, but a digital-only art world, as the past year has shown, is not one that can sustain the magic that keeps us engaged. It is why all of the platforms mentioned have an emphasis on the translation from IRL to URL, ‘the online digital process is very human in its conception’, Gryn says, ‘the technology is the means to an end.’ And that end, however unlikely it might sometimes feel, is to support the creation of art. The digital initiatives that have lasted are the ones that have engaged artists, enticed them to new and exciting mediums, and the ones that have sold their work successfully in order to commission more. There has been what journalist Jenna Wortham calls a ‘context collapse’ in which we have all fallen into the same space, with the same tools. Those led by the core impulse of supporting artists, along with the creativity and optimism to imagine something beyond a website page, are those that will have the greatest impact on how we buy art in this new terrain.

 


 

Stella Botes is a freelance art critic and writer, find more of her writing via her Instagram @gallerina_ldn

Buying and selling art with confidence post COVID-19

Image from Art Forgery: Why Do We Care So Much for Originals? (Medium)

 

When assessing the current status of the art market, it is worth remembering that around twenty to fifty percent of the works in circulation are fakes, forgeries, misattributions and unknowns. Some studies that startled me indicated that one artwork out of ten held in museums are fake – and that’s without taking the enormous number of misattributions into consideration.

 

In the challenging environment we are currently navigating, an increasing number of high-value transactions are taking place online, often with the artwork purchased sight-unseen (only from images on a screen). When a collector spends a significant amount of money on a work of art, this poses a real and substantial risk – asking for additional reassurance is not only a fair request, more robust support becomes almost a requirement. But what pieces of information or data points really matter when determining if an artwork is genuine and if it is in good condition when buying – and, maybe more importantly, to potentially enhance its value if one is selling? An information package that includes provenance and technical art history is very advantageous when seeking to obtain a connoisseurial opinion or to bring a work to sale.

 

Provenance.

 

The provenance of a piece is a very important component in determining its authenticity. It is also one of the biggest drivers of an item’s worth, but it needs to be investigated seriously and with some skepticism. Too often, I see clients so enamored with an artwork that they are blind to its more dubious features, convinced for instance that any documentation related to the piece that they have been given or received is accurate, or, that the fact that certain documents are missing is immaterial. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. One artwork we investigated was a painting thought to be by Heinrich Campendonk, which turned out to be made by the German forger Wolfgang Beltracchi, who faked provenance documents along with paintings, in order to make his pieces more credible. It is sad to say that his efforts to deceive were not readily discovered and subsequently sold for millions at reputable galleries and auction houses.

 

Provenance can also be incomplete or in some cases missing, in parts or in its entirety. One important point to keep in mind is that provenance comes in many different forms: from signed statements of authenticity to sales receipts, artists’ archives to exhibition records. It is rare that all of this information is preserved – especially for older pieces.

 

When there are gaps in the provenance, we often see this as a red flag, as it indicates the greater possibility for problematic issues: misattribution, forgery, sometimes theft. However, in lucky instances, the piece in question may be found in the artist’s catalogue raisonné (if one exists) – which is, in theory, the most complete documentation of the artists’ production. Many times, catalogue raisonnés are few and far between, and are often reserved for those artists who are internationally recognized. What about the less fortunate or lesser-known artists who have not had their works documented in this manner?

 

Science and Technical Art History.

 

For a very long time, post-modern approaches to art history did not consider the artwork as a material object. Consideration of technique and material composition of works of art was not considered to be useful.

 

In light of the current lockdown situations world-wide, which prevent many connoisseurs and potential buyers from travelling to see art in person, art market participants are finding alternative ways to sell their pieces, and in doing so, are slowly embracing new technologies that allow them to collect more information. This provides the dual advantage of knowing that what they are selling is authentic while maximizing the value of their sales. At Art Analysis & Research, we have been offering such services for more than a decade and are just now finding ever more acceptance of the value that analysis of the artwork can offer. Our scientific approaches use newer technologies to examine works of art, providing evidence-based information on the history of the piece, its dating, attribution as well as on condition.

 

Our experts have spent decades collecting and analyzing data on an extensive range of reference materials, especially pigments – our database of pigments is the world’s largest, privately owned collection as is its associated spectral library! As a result, we are able to refer to this rich historical data, ensuring that our results are accurate, consistent and comprehensive.

 

Technical analysis may be applied to all sorts of media, ranging from paintings to sculptures, to drawings and more. We undertake pigment analysis, technical imaging, material identification and carbon dating to cite just a few. Our aim is to provide a range of techniques and the historical context to make them meaningful in order to help collectors increase the value of their pieces and the buyers decrease the risk of buying forgeries, misattributions or highly restored objects. A recent example is our work for Dickinson Gallery for TEFAF 2020, for whom we provided the technical imaging for Vincent Van Gogh’s “Peasant Woman in front of a Farmhouse”. The x-ray revealed an abandoned composition underneath the visible painting, which corresponded with a known drawing by the artist. The work was eventually sold by the gallery for a TEFAF record-breaking price of €15 million!

 

Provenance research and technical art history are key first steps. Once done, it’s the right moment to approach a specialized connoisseur for their opinion. The order of these steps is important, as a connoisseur benefits from having as much objective information as possible regarding a piece to give the best opinion – which can often make or break the reputation of a work of art. An information package that includes both provenance research and technical art history provides the most secure starting point from which to obtain a connoisseurial opinion or to bring a work to sale.

 

Connoisseurship.

 

The role of the connoisseurial expert is to determine when, how and which artist created an artwork, by looking at the stylistic characteristics of the piece along with other key information. Nevertheless, there are many factors at work in this opaque market; legal risk, reputational risk, market dynamics, personal influence and other unforeseen aspects often play significant roles. That said, this is not to imply that connoisseurs, dealers, or others in the market are working in bad faith – but rather they often have a multitude of pressures and considerations. Isn’t it better to have more information available to the connoisseur, and subsequently to dealers, gallerists, advisors and others to equip them with more authority in evaluating or representing the work?

 

A few years ago, a newly discovered painting thought to be by Wassily Kandinsky was brought to our lab upon the request of the Kandinsky Foundation, to provide an assessment to assist the artist’s foundation in reaching a decision on the authenticity of the work. After conducting a technical examination, we found the painting to be consistent with Kandinsky’s materials and with technical imaging, were able to decipher an underdrawing that depicted a harbor scene. The Foundation discovered the underdrawing matched a sketch done by the artist in his authenticated sketchbook and, thanks to this discovery, the painting was accepted into the catalogue raisonné. Needless to say, its value increased enormously. This is just an example of why we have seen the power and value of embracing new ways to investigate artworks.

 

The Future of Authentication.

 

Opaque and unregulated, the art market has long been vulnerable to forgeries and misattributions and the number of fakes will undoubtedly increase due to the new tools available to forgers. From using old canvas or adding some cracks that would make one believe the work is from a specific artist’s period – it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep one step ahead of the forger. And in the challenging environment we are navigating with many transactions taking place without seeing the artwork first, authentication is becoming increasingly more important.

 

If you ask me what makes technical art history so powerful, I would say it is the multidisciplinary approach that fuses science and art together. It is incredible to observe first-hand professionals with backgrounds in conservation, art history, physics, forensic science, engineering and business all working together. This sort of collaboration is what I hope for the future of the art market. Collaboration is the way forward; we all have our areas of expertise and working together is the key. Collaboration is powerful and perhaps most importantly, beneficial for the buyer, the seller, and the various professionals involved.

 

With the help of science, art history, provenance research, connoisseurial expertise and an open mind to new technologies, I am convinced that together we can create an art market that is less risky and easier to access for future generations.

 


Buying and selling art with confidence post COVID-19 ArtTactic

 

Dehlia Barman leads customer and partner engagements in the UK and Europe for Art Analysis & Research previously working at galleries, auction houses, online art businesses and art advisory companies. Dehlia also guest lectures at Sotheby’s Institute of Art and Regent’s University, delivering sessions on the importance and value of art authentication. Her journey in the art world started in Lugano, Switzerland where she completed a bachelor’s degree in Communications. Passionate about the dynamics shaping and influencing the art market, Dehlia moved to London and completed her MA in Art Business at the Sotheby’s Institute of Art.