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.




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.




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. 

How will the art world redefine its use of space post-pandemic?


As Covid-19 modifies consumer behaviour in all sectors of society, conversations in the art world have centred around the necessity of physical space – what will happen, institutionally and artistically, if space for art as we’ve come to know it is no longer available? The design of rooms, larger sequences of space, audience movement and more are all suddenly open topics of discussion.


Fears about how physical spaces will operate have been on the forefront of everyone’s minds since the pandemic began. Agile work environments, open plans, hot desking, social integration and other quality and performance improvements could now become things of the past, unfortunately moving the industry backwards in fostering healthy and productive work, gallery and collateral spaces. While opportunities for social and professional interaction in the art world have clearly been limited by Covid-19, the outlook is not as clear for evolution of the art world’s physical spaces.


Re-imagining the Landscape


At this time, many industry professionals are realising that work can in fact be completed at home instead of in the office. However, the art world is unique in that it’s an incredibly social industry reliant on social spaces. For participants in the industry, there is a clear need for belonging and participating offline. Take for example, those who attend auctions. Yes, many who attend are seeking out a specific art work they’d like to bid on, but for the most part, auctions are about the experience and the feelings of exclusivity synonymous with attending such an event in an intimate space. There is something enchanting about sitting next to others at auction in a high-intensity atmosphere, physically raising paddles as bids soar into the millions. Some are attracted to the competitive theatre of it all. Which makes me wonder, will these interactions and experiences ever be replicated online?


This past summer, a series of Global Hybrid Evening Sales of Impressionist, Modern, Post- War and Contemporary art took place amongst auction houses Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Philips. While all three auction houses produced new virtual platforms for the summer season, Sotheby’s Hybrid sale was particularly cinematic and well-designed. The  seemingly high-budget production included a series of collateral from pre-filmed introductory videos by the evening’s auctioneer, Oliver Barker, Senior Director and Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, along with rendered simulations of the space. A multi- camera set-up catered to online viewers across the globe. Collectively, the Hybrid sales raised $709.2 million, comfortably within the pre-sale estimates of $623.6 million to $738.8 million. This signaled a positive return to the auction market for international buyers. Although the ‘big three’ auction houses proved they are able to field bids from telephone, online, and in-room, with the added implementation of immersive catalogues and additional vehicles for bidding, will these factors be enough to compete with the thrill of offline auctions in the upcoming season?


How will the art world redefine its use of space post-pandemic? ArtTactic

Limitless audiences. Sotheby’s rendering of its new online auction platform.


Aside from auction sales, the importance of relationships and interactions is underscored by a plethora of offline industry events such as art fairs, gallery openings and previews. That being said, there is a strong global interconnectedness within the sector that has been building for many years online from gallery arms and auction houses’ e-commerce abilities with multi-city expansions, to fairs operating offices as global organisations – all of which increase the accessibility of art to span globally. David Tung, Director of Lisson Shanghai notes Covid-19 may mark a turning point in the way we think about traditional art market models. With technology, Lisson Gallery is able to “do a tour of up to 500 people at one time (theoretically this could be limitless) and work with galleries across four cities”. With the interest in digital models now increasing, from social media followings to welcoming new digital visitors, art world bodies through digital investment can now communicate and have access to a wider scope of audience. This accessibility is something that now the whole world can have access to, drawing old and new audiences in comparatively to the in-person sales model.


In my own research, I’ve recently started looking at digital space like filled real estate – where entities are holistically creating more content – from interviews, films, to virtual rooms. We’re no longer just looking at the artwork, but now… artist interviews, studios, personal spaces and new forms of content. This surge of alternative content creation is novel, as there was never a need for viewers to absorb this amount of online content pre-Covid-19. This new form of interaction provides viewers the opportunity to see things they otherwise might not have offline. For example, virtually visiting artist studios is a curated intimate experience that is readily available for immediate access and absorption by viewers. A lot of effort is placed into creating an experience as real as possible – in a way, online platforms are re-designing a whole new user experience for purchasing art online.


Approaching the design of future spaces should be thought of not as a back-step but rather an improvement. This could be promising for buyers as they begin to see the intimate and personal connections that can be fostered through digital realms. With virtual and physical worlds rapidly merging, the emergence of innovative platforms may be the reality moving forward.


Codes and Restrictions


While we wait for the return to the physical space – reminding ourselves of our favourite museums and galleries – it may be a while until new policies and architectural codes are implemented. The redesign of physical spaces may actually be optional for the time being. However, through the lens of an employer, in order for employees to come back they will have to provide a provision of safety that’s guaranteed. This may mean the restriction of spaces to prevent social movements, screens for social distancing measures – a luxury where deliberate spacing was once driven mostly by concept. Physical spaces from salesrooms, galleries, museums, and auction houses will need to rethink floor plans, and where objects are placed to minimise the risk of transmission – new protocols that are inherently part of the new workspace and art world behind the scenes.


However, as restrictions are loosened, we can’t imagine everyone will implement large changes in these spaces. For the time-being, we see numerous visitor protection guidance in place, from limited hours, to allotted time slots and ticketing, staggered entries, along with face mask provisions and occupancy restrictions to a quarter of full capacity. Other physical spaces have remained closed in efforts to support various cities’ efforts to contain Covid-19.


Post-Covid, we may be more likely to see an advent of museums and institutions merging the physical space with the virtual realm – exploring ways to creatively present work online during the pandemic. Virtually, institutions have the ability to drive in traffic numbers in the thousands – incomparable to its footfall counterpart. Walk-in traffic for galleries, museums and physical retailers have dropped off in recent months, transforming the behaviour of buyers and museum goers. Online-only shows and appointment visits seem to be the movement in the foreseeable future, limiting numbers for the general public. However MoMA is implementing ‘pay as you wish’ admissions opposed to its $25 ticket in hopes of encouraging footfall.


How will the art world redefine its use of space post-pandemic? ArtTactic

Codes and restrictions from the Interior Design, Reference + Specification Book.


The implementations of additional code and restrictions may further impact visitor numbers for the museums and galleries we love so much, but whether this will be enough to sustain the budget and operations levels and offset some of the financial damage due to Covid-related closures is uncertain.


The heightened need for art and personal spaces


A question I’ve been asking myself lately is ‘do we need to return to the physical space?’ What can employees and consumers do at the office or commercial spaces that they can’t do at home?


Indoor environments are a critical component of well-being, productivity, and safety – particularly the things we see every day. This experience has heightened the need of personal interests, hobbies and intimate spaces in the home particularly. Artcurial’s specialist in design and Art Deco, Sabrina Dolla, noted buyers’ appetites hadn’t appeared to diminish during lockdown but were sharpened.


Although the scope of physical spaces is large in the art world and my perspective just briefly covered some aspects, maneuvering through a global pandemic is new to all of us, and we are all learning how to best optimise our lives to fit this current reality. What will the lasting output from these last several months be on the industry? I often think about the next generation and what kind of climate they’re born into and this new sense of normalcy. It’s difficult designing a solution for something where we don’t know what’s going to happen, but it’s been uplifting to see the voices of artists and those in the artistic community continuing their practice. It’s about the little things in life that spark the most joy and supporting artists and those behind the scenes that make the art world turn.


Joanna Hirsch is Product Manager/Head of Content of AucArt, a London-based hybrid online auction house and gallery featuring international emerging artists. She manages website content, design & development, and communications. Joanna has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spatial Design from London College of Communication and a Master’s degree in Art Business with distinction from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art. 

State of the Community: Art in Quarantine


One must look no further than Sci-Fi classics such as Blade Runner or Back to the Future to know that by 2020 we were supposed to be living in a world full of flying cars, holograms, and Self-Lacing Nikes. Our reality is instead much closer to a world described by Contagion. In the midst of a pandemic, humanity has been forced back inside; scrolling through social media, re-watching the Office, and using video chat services such as Zoom, Skype and Facetime to connect with everyone from bosses to loved ones. Looking at the pandemic through the lens of my own industry, I wondered: what are the implications of Covid-19 for the artists and the greater world of Fine Art? Historically, in times of unrest, artists have often flocked to creative havens like the salons of Paris after World War I, or in New York’s ‘Village’ in the wake of World War II. More recently the emergence of the Young British Artists in London has seen young artists coming together during art school. What do all of these moments of explosive creativity have in common and what does it have to do with living life six feet apart?


In my Master’s dissertation for Sotheby’s Institute of Art, I looked extensively at the statistical significance of groupings within the Pop Art Movement, comparing the fortunes of British Pop Artists and their American counterparts. I defined Network Strength as being based on “shared galleries, shared education, and any shared groups or connections within the movement.” Combining aggregate scores of network strength, institutional prestige, and market rating, I was able to create a multivariate hybrid index comparing the two adjacent movements. While the British Pop Art Movement predated the Americans, it was not Richard Hamilton that has become a market bell-weather, but instead Andy Warhol who found significance in the local proximity of the group of American’s living in New York City in the 60’s.


In today’s context, what will happen when artists are contained to their living spaces? The ability for artists to group in any manner has been taken away, or at the very least, restricted to six feet due to stringent quarantine measures around the world. In the wake of social distancing and a worldwide lockdown, galleries have been forced to adopt new ways of connecting with both artists and buyers with virtual gallery visits, salons, artist talks, round tables, art fairs, and openings. So how have artists coped with being alone?


During my own time in lockdown, I reached out to artists in both the US and UK practicing in a range of different mediums and creative fields to survey how they’re connecting with each other and with the wider art world at this time. I chose to speak with artists at the beginning of their careers as it is during this time that they are most likely to create meaningful connections and/or networks of fellow artists and art world contacts.


Virtual Communities


With the absence of studio space and their own proverbial East Village haunts, today’s artists have banded together online. Charlie Goering and Alex Lewis touched on the topic of the absence of gallery space and how artists have found new and creative ways to collaborate from isolation. Goering provided his own unique insight as an artist based almost solely on Instagram by noting that he has utilized the platform to build a following and connect with artists prior to the international lockdown. Long accustomed to facilitating sales, connecting with galleries and keeping up with other artists nationally and internationally, Goering noted that “without Instagram I am not so sure I would have the confidence to live and work outside New York or Los Angeles.” As a student, Lewis benefitted greatly from his school community with Zoom sessions with his fellow classmates, noting that there was a diminishment in effectiveness to these sessions when students would turn off their camera, a new social faux-pas borne out of the increased use of video chats. Like Goering, Lewis also noted having used Instagram to reach out to other artists not previously contacted on Instagram.


On a larger scale, in a recent article, the Art Newspaper’s Louisa Buck highlighted the #artistsupportpledge, a charitable initiative created by artist Matthew Burrows in support of fellow artists and makers. Every time an artist reaches £1,000 of sales, they pledge to buy £200 of work from other artists. Having raised nearly £20 million, the #artistsupportpledge on Instagram has garnered over 100,000 posts. Providing an accessible platform for all artists, regardless of gallery, practice, or connections to help each other through tough times, the Artist Support Pledge is the arts community at its best. Other creative projects born from Covid-19 include the aptly named Shelter in Place Gallery, a platform created by Eben Haines to allow artists to submit miniaturized versions to larger works to be displayed in a model structure. With large scale art hard to create at home, Haines’ was able to support the Greater Boston community of artists with help from a grant from the City of Boston by providing artists with a stipend and a way to create and show work. In a more whimsical solution to the lack of gallery space, artist Nicole Shinn launched a show based on the hit video game “Animal Crossing, New Horizons” with artists pixelating their art into works to be hung in a virtual space, with even an interpretation of Marina Abramovic’s The Village is Present showing on “opening night” in the game. Subverting the limited space of a bricks and mortar gallery, Shinn’s use of Animal Crossing allowed her to include over 20 other artists, a feat many galleries could not accommodate on their wall space.




Despite being forced to create makeshift studios at home, artists have also been blessed with even more time to think and create works in their newfound surroundings. Alex Lewis, and Yulia Iosilzon provided insight on how quarantine has affected their ability to create works without access to their studios by finding ways to work at home, or, in Lewis’ case, investing in a pottery wheel and finding a garage to create a makeshift workspace. Iosilzon on the other hand, was able to use her new found free time to find a small Italian manufacturer to fulfill a long-held idea to place her works on bespoke blankets. Others like Armand Kazem found himself more aware of social unrest during this time, referencing both the Black Lives Matter Protests and the annexation of the West Bank. Expounding on this further and how it affected his own work, Kazem stated “that one of the main aims is to talk to people” and also, “it (art) should be something more”, referencing such things as climate change or wealth inequality.


Digital Dash


While many artists have grown accustomed to posting their works on Instagram, the loss of wall space has forced many to meet new challenges of placing their work in the new digital world. Touching upon this, Iosilzon noted that learning how to best represent her works in a virtual viewing room posed a new challenge, a newfound conundrum facing artists and the wider art world. Despite technologies best efforts, digitizing an artwork can still prove to be challenging, painstakingly combing the work on a screen for colour discrepancies, issues with lighting, and ensuring the work is presented in a manner that attempts to replicate the walls of the gallery. While many of the top galleries and auction houses were able to provide these virtual services pre-lockdown, Loic Gouzer has progressed further into the digital space by rolling out Fair Warning, a new invite-only app-based auction that offers a single lot to its users to purchase at one time.  Gouzer’s foray into the online marketplace is intriguing as its success may signal to others a new route away from the traditional auction/gallery space. While many smaller galleries have been slow to take on the costly practice of digitizing their works, quarantine has forced many to reevaluate their position. Relying on their wall spaces and PDF’s to sell work, many were unaccustomed to the process of digitizing artworks and as a result have had to rapidly learn how to adapt – eschewing time consuming and oftentimes expensive three dimensional virtual spaces for live “viewings” on Facebook Live or Instagram Live.


Today’s Future


In 1977 Andy Warhol wrote in his memoir: “they always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”  In the past, creatives like Fitzgerald sat with Picasso in the salons of Paris, Warhol shared drinks with Merce Cunningham in Greenwich Village, Angus Fairhurst invited Damien Hirst to show with him in London. In 2020, drawing on new sources of network strength in the absence of coffeeshops, bars, galleries or studios, today’s artists have been forced back into the confines of their homes. But with this new-normal comes an opportunity for explosive creativity, in both art and digital connections. It seems artists will always find a way to create (even if that means a slightly more cluttered kitchen table, repurposed garage, or a video game). Artists are making the most of it, utilizing this time to check-in with their peers, discuss social unrest, helping other artists, and meeting new people. Coupled with the art world’s move to digital, this signals we might be getting closer to that 2020 we were supposed to be living in… flying cars, Self-Lacing Nikes, and all. Today’s young artist communities are creating a way forward.


Currently based in the United States, Skylar Breiner graduated from Wittenberg University with a degree in Political Science; Chinese Foreign Policy. Transitioning from his background in policy, Breiner took a job at Art Design Consultant’s, becoming interim Business Director. Wanting to continue his education in Fine Art, Breiner pursued an Art Business degree from Sotheby’s Institute of Art ’s Master’s Program in London where he graduated with distinction. For his dissertation he created a multivariable index ranking British and American Pop Artists based on their network, net worth, and institutional representation. Having recently interned at ArtVisor, he is excited to continue collaborating within the Fine Art space.

The Call for Change

Guerrilla Girls, Guerrilla Girls Talk Back © courtesy and part of the Tate Collection


Several years ago, I realized that the art world had a major problem.


In my fourth year of studying as a fine artist at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I decided to sign up for a new extracurricular course titled “Art and the World of Big Money”. The course was taught by a part time teacher and director at a big gallery in downtown Chicago and focused in giving students a comprehensive understanding of the structure of the art market. Fifteen minutes into our first lecture, the professor began to create a diagram on the dry erase board depicting “The Life and Career of an Artist”.


Drawing that diagram took him roughly an hour. He went through all the motions: starting the “artist” off at undergraduate art school, followed by graduate art school, suggesting that the artist utilizes this time to build and refine their practice. He demonstrated that the next step for the artist’s career is to be picked up by galleries that either find the artist through solo and group shows, exhibitions, and even sometimes press. As the artist progresses and their networks’ expand, these galleries would also gradually get more established over time, became more global instead of local, and more art world players would be added to the scenario: such as art critics, writers, collectors, buyers, institutions, and even auction houses.


All of these variables help create name and brand recognition for the artist over time; the step in the process is to eventually end up in major museums and cultural institutions. Eventually, the end of the diagram leads to the artist’s death, and, following the artist’s death, that career can be brought even further through legacy, foundations, and ultimately, a permanent place in collections and history.


As a developing artist myself, I sat there a bit overwhelmed as I stared at a literal template for a future that could be mine.


I didn’t think about anything else until a peer to my right, who had been feverishly jotting down her notes the entire class, raised her hand and asked, “What happens if the artist isn’t good?”


Without hesitating, the teacher blatantly responded, “Oh, that doesn’t affect much”, implying that you don’t necessarily have to be a good artist to successfully follow this trajectory. With the right connections and the right amount of funding, any artist can technically become a well-known artist.


This floored me at the time. Ultimately, it confused me that any artist with enough of a network could flow with ease through this formula and theoretically end up in a major collection somehow. Here I was, trying to be the “best” artist I could possibly be, spending sometimes up to ten hours a day honing my practice in hopes that, if I spent enough time, it would eventually lead to the outcome of a “good artist” and therefore, a “successful artist”.


This was my wakeup call that this was not always the case.


Today, my commentary is not about “good” or bad” art, as I have come to accept that art is often subjective. Rather, I am addressing the system that fuels the art industry, the people who run it, the actions they take to help make the system the way it is, and question my own active participation in it. It’s no secret that the art world has been mythicized by its “Wild West” rules and regulations, lack of transparency, Big Money, and strict adherence to the status quo. But due to recent events (a worldwide pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement – just to name a few), these disparities have been highlighted. I wonder, is there room for the art world’s antiquated systems any longer? Is the art world out of touch with reality?


Call to Action


The past month, in particular, has been a critical time for many institutions and art brands to reevaluate their role in not just the art world, but in the world at large. For instance, the Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), which has been reignited in the United States following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of four police officers in Minneapolis, is not just an American issue, nor just an issue of police brutality. More people around the world are beginning to wake up and realize the deep-rooted, systemic flaws within their institutions. These monumental movements demonstrate the criticality of our voices in society. Especially in a time like this.


Art that Critiques Its Own Industry


This call for change is not new. Artist activist groups like The Guerilla Girls have been making work specifically about these disparities in the art world since as far back as the eighties.


The anonymous group of female artists are notorious for creating satirical, yet factual, public art that exposes gender, racial, and systematic inequalities within institutions and its patrons. In an interview conducted in 2015, Frida Kahlo, a member of the Guerilla Girls who has hidden her real identity by adopting the title of one of the great female artists from the past, asked the rhetorical question, “If museums fall into that system of collecting the most expensive art and being all about the art market, is that really telling the story of production of our culture? I don’t think so, because if you look at that, billionaire art collectors are running the show, and they are a very homogenous group. They are far more homogeneous than artists are”.


The Call for Change ArtTactic

The Guerilla Girls outside of Whitechapel Gallery. Photo: © David Parry (from


New groups, like the New York based Artists for Workers (AFW) follow the same mindset. AFW has recently formed in 2020 in light of some museums’ responses, or lack thereof, to the BLM protests and political turmoil. “Different crisis, same commitment to the status quo” is read on countless posters that have been plastered onto the walls of boarded up museums during the protests in New York. Many museums and art brands have been put on blast for their elitist-driven attitudes and alleged ignorance to major social issues, such as allowing racism and sexism in their work culture.


The artists and art professionals who challenge their own market have increased in popularity during this time, particularly through their social media and online presence.



Rethinking the Definition of “Cultural Institutions”


While some were criticized for staying quiet for too long, many major cultural establishments, patrons, and brands began speaking out in solidarity of major social issues and even going as far as addressing their own mistakes and past wrong-doings.


The Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (MCA), was recently criticized in 2019 when a photo was exposed of their close ties and donations to the Chicago Police Department. Due to recent protests and petitions, however, the MCA publically announced in early June that they would cut ties with police until reforms are made to the Chicago Police Department. The MCA was the third largest major art institution to cut ties with its cities police department, along with The Walker Art Center and The Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minneapolis.


A myriad of announcements like the MCA’s go on:


On June 23, Melissa Chiu, Director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C, announced new initiatives to change and implement new methods of operations. “We are responsible for supporting and building an equitable society within and beyond our walls”, Chiu says, in an effort to announce a new way of thinking as a cultural institution.


The Tate networks even publicized the data on its own demographics of its workers after issuing a statement that addressed the power of their own platform and influence as a voice in the community.


Aside from admitting flaws, galleries and museums have also taken the opportunity to promote and post more socially aware content in tandem with the current BLM protests and political turmoil.


A collective of major international institutions such as the Tate, Palazzo Grassi, and Stedelijk Museum, collaborated with the American Black artist, Arthur Jafa, to live stream his 7-minute video “Love is the Message, The Message is Death” (2016) for 48 hours over the weekend of June 26. The video itself serves as a powerful message on racism and black resilience.


Galleries, like Superchief Gallery, based in New York City, Los Angeles, and Miami, have completely dedicated its efforts to helping support BLM and has become an active participant in spreading important information. “WE ALL NEED A CHANGE IN LEADERSHIP”, they wrote on an Instagram post, accompanied by an IGTV video of an activist discussing the governments denial of systematic racism. Posts regarding their own artwork at the gallery have not been seen for weeks.


While the sentiment behind the increasing number of statements and calls to action to “do better” have been astounding, they have also come with their fair share of backlash, and for a good reason.


The real change comes with time and critical action.


You Say You Can Change: Now What?


With any change, comes opportunities for growth and improvement. We cannot keep this momentum without continued internal reflection and critically acting on it.


We must constantly acknowledge that the art industry directly benefits off of statements that artists have made, political or not. These artists, as well as the greater public, look to our cultural institutions to spark innovation for change, progressiveness, and creativity. We must do better.


We, as thought-leaders, as a community of art lovers and statement makers,  have an important role to play. The art world will not move forward unless we right our wrongs. Addressing our own problems is one of the hardest things to do, but our words ring hollow if we do not do so.


Mattie Martinez is an American artist and art industry professional. She received a four-year merit scholarship from the leading American arts university, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Visual Communications. Following her Bachelor’s in Art, Martinez became increasingly passionate about the art industry itself, and gained a Master’s degree in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. There, she completed a dissertation which researched online marketing techniques within the Art World and analyzed the industries’ utilization of social media platforms such as YouTube. Over the years, Martinez has also worked with a wide variety of art institutions and companies in major cities such as Chicago, London, and New York.

Making the most of it: collaborations of emerging artists and independent brands


The collaborations between brands and artists have existed in the market for a long time, spanning not even decades, but almost a century, though they were predominantly seen in the realm of luxury. One recalls the famous Lobster dress, created by Salvador Dalí and Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s and Yves Saint Laurent’s modernist dress inspired by Piet Mondrian’s artworks in 1965. Since then international luxury conglomerates have made a habit of collaborating with artists on limited editions of different products ranging from perfume bottles, bags and suitcases to full-blown fashion collections.


It is interesting to see how nowadays, especially during the lockdown, this trend has become prominent in the milieu of emerging artists and small as well as medium-sized independent brands, who become more and more inventive in their marketing strategies. One sadly notes that it is often the smaller and less protected market players who have to jump many hoops to survive, let alone thrive. However, scarcity can lead to brilliant outcomes and shifts in the traditional modus operandi of art, fashion, beauty and lifestyle markets.




Up until the COVID crisis the examples of artists collaborating with luxury brands, owned by international conglomerates, were plenty, and each fashion season was bound to bring several more. Only for autumn/winter 2019, the author was able to distil eleven outstanding collaborations not only of the traditional ‘LVMH meets A Famous Artist’ kind, but more niche ones such as Iris van Herpen and Anthony Howe or Pyer Moss and Derrick Adams. French sociologist Jean-Noël Kapferer remarks that such ‘artification’ of luxury products is as much a marketing move aimed to grow the brands’ awareness and expand their audience, but also a transformation of non-art into art. Bags, perfumes, dresses and watches transgress the realm of pure commerce and obtain symbolic value, as well as become relevant for the future generations by acquiring a semi-iconic status (Kapferer on luxury: how luxury brands can grow yet remain rare, 2015). However, as fashion weeks and production speeds came to an abrupt halt in spring 2020, it is yet to see whether the conventional fashion machinery will be brought back to its vertiginous speed in the post-COVID era.


The collaborations’ tool has at some point become prominent in more niche segments of the fashion market, just as the market itself, according to different researchers, began prioritising low-volume niche brands and paying less attention to high-volume mainstream ones. While conventional luxury brands owned by established international conglomerates can only partially be categorised as high-volume as their distribution demands high exclusivity, many ‘wannabe’-luxury brands started producing large volumes of ‘premium mediocre goods’ (a brilliant definition coined by fashion journalist Eugene Rabkin). Such abundance of widespread offers gives certain consumers a desire to move to greener pastures, shop at smaller brands and have access to truly exclusive offers, limited in quantity, created with unique designs and often providing an entry point to the art market.




In conversations with owners of small and medium independent brands as well as to emerging artists, several motivational patterns for collaboration began to emerge. The first and most obvious is a desire to expand awareness about a brand or artistic practice. The initiator can be a commercial brand offering a collaborative project, an intermediary agency acting in the interests of a client or an artist pitching a collaboration. Partnerships are likely to be successful when the brand and the artist share similar values or have a resemblance in their public image. However, potential partners tend to gravitate towards counterparts with substantial social capital, brand awareness and market visibility to enhance their brand and cross-pollinate target audiences. Such is the case of Piglet, the British brand of linen bedding and pyjamas, whose marketing budget is mostly allocated to digital and social media. Its founder Jessica Mason needed a strong PR push and approached the artist Alexa Coe with the suggestion to create a series of drawings, which were subsequently embroidered on the pockets of two types of pyjama sets. A similar strategy was chosen by Molly Goddard and Joel Jefferey from Desmond & Dempsey, another brand of cotton and linen loungewear, and the chosen artist was Venetia Berry, suggested by a PR agency working with the brand. All the parties confessed that the collaborations were rather well-received due to the similarity of the brands and artists’ core values and creative styles.


The second motivation underpinning the first, more practical and commercial aim, and registering as very prominent is an opportunity for both the artist and the brand to broaden their horizons and to create something new. The novelty may be in the introduction of a new product or the adoption of a new technique or medium by the artist. Such reasons motivate Ana Kerin, who is both sculptor and ceramicist as well as the owner of KANA London, a ceramics boutique and series of pottery workshops in Hackney. Kerin likes wearing two hats and collaborates both with brands as an artist and with artists as a commissioner. She says collaborations open her mind and give her ideas that might have never come if not for a brand counterpart arriving with a brief for a limited edition. This was the case of her project with Lisa Mehydene, owner of edit.58, a homewares boutique. Mehydene saw Kerin’s rustic plates and pinch pots at a private dinner and fell in love with the authenticity of the pieces. Same goes for the cases where Kerin approaches artists with ideas of creating limited editions of her products. One of the most successful collaborations to date was with Alexa Coe who is on the rise these days and collaborates extensively, respecting, however, her own style and her personal brand’s values.




Collaborative projects can seem like a no-brainer at first, but to be successful they have to be carefully planned. Brand values match is a must, but setting clear targets and deadlines as well as creating actionable marketing plans is necessary. This may work out naturally for some, more often for brand owners who are used to dealing with planning and setting KPIs. Rigorous planning and targets’ setting can be daunting for others, often artists, who may feel that their creative process is being over-controlled and micromanaged. This is where intermediary agencies and independent consultants can be useful as they will help respect the interests of both parties, control the process and protect the DNAs of the brands and artistic practices. However, in the current mutating market, the flexibility and initiative of emerging artists and independent brands matter more every day. Without the bureaucratic and production restrictions often faced by corporations, new alliances can thrive. They make a difference by setting examples of best practices, sustainably supporting the artists directly and becoming first encounters with the art market for consumers.


Anastasia Lander is a marketing and communications professional with 18 years of diverse experience in working with brands ranging from M.A.C. Cosmetics and Dior to Unilever portfolio. Lander holds a Master’s degree in Art Business with Distinction from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London where she is also Member of the Governing Body. She is the founder of Lander Comms, where she creates communication strategies for brands and artists. Lander is Executive Director of the not-for-profit Young Masters Art Prize, a member of the Association of Women in the Arts (AWITA) and Bloom UK, a professional network for women in communications.

New tendencies in the online art market: price transparency and the “behavioural surplus”

Imagine you are walking in Mayfair and you are attracted by a shiny window of one of the many world-class art galleries of the neighbourhood. You walk in, politely greet the front desk staff, ask for the press release, and then you finally start filling your eyes with some of the most representative artworks of our contemporary culture. Nevertheless, while you are wandering in the space, a burning question pops into your mind: how much will these artworks cost? If you are brave enough – or, maybe, I should say naïve – you might decide to ease the burden of your doubt and go and ask the gallery assistant, who is very likely to graciously smile at you and ask: are you already our client? This situation does not stand in the realm of the hypotheses, it is actually an incredibly common “protocol” adopted by most of the blue-chip galleries.


The lack of transparency of the art market is not a breaking news. However, a further distinction needs to be made between the primary and the secondary market. The opacity of the latter, indeed, has sharply decreased over the years due to the inception of price databases such as Artnet, the first company to gather and publish sales prices of auctioned artworks. Despite the success of its service amongst collectors, according to Artnet’s CEO Jacob Pabst, big auction houses and art galleries did not appreciate the mission of the company, which had to wait over a decade to finally become profitable, demonstrating that its aim was not to replace a system, but to enhance its operations. Conversely, the primary market is a proper Dantesque selva oscura, full of undercover art advisors, transactions between anonymous parties, and stoical gatekeepers who work hard behind the scenes to keep their interests safe.


The centuries-old art market has proven to be extensively resistant to innovations, however, even its most conservative players had to acknowledge the increasing relevance of the digital space. According to the Art Basel and UBS Art Market Report 2020, the online art market has been thriving for the past five years, accounting for $5.9 billion in 2019, but its growth rate is slowing down, with lack of trust and transparency as the main attributable factors.


New tendencies in the online art market: price transparency and the “behavioural surplus” ArtTactic

Source: The Art Market Report 2020, Art Basel & UBS


Most certainly, the snapshot of the online art market will look completely different in next year’s reports, as the coming of the global pandemic forced all the market players to move their entire businesses into the digital space. The digital realm has always been seen as complementary to the offline art market, made by private viewings, VIP programmes and collectors’ lounges. However, due to the absence of the physical art world induced by the pandemic, the online world is currently the only available one. Indeed, the COVID-19 outbreak provoked a forceful boost in the development of online platforms and having a strong e-commerce has become the key to keep the sales on an economically sustainable level.


A noticeable change happened in the art fairs sector, which has been obviously highly impacted by the pandemic and its consequent travel bans. Art Basel Hong Kong online viewing rooms debuted at the end of March, paving the way for the shift from offline to the virtual world. I remember looking at the “booths” of my favourite galleries, and then only later noticing tiny numeric digits just below the artworks: prices. Price transparency in the context of an art fair is something that you don’t frequently see even in “live” editions, where sales people are often trained to politely decline to declare price ranges. Art Basel Global Director, Marc Spiegler, explained in an interview that the decision of including prices has been made after careful consideration of whether this could have been a winning strategy to encourage and speed up the acquisition process. A few weeks later, Frieze Viewing Rooms New York followed in persuading its participants to make prices publicly available and, according to its New York Director Loring Randolph, the missing face-to-face interaction with potential collectors can be overcome by tearing down as many barriers as possible. You can listen to ArtTactic’s podcast with Loring Randolph on this topic here.


In the midst of the enthusiasm for this sign of further democratisation of a well-known elitist industry, we all have lost sight of what could be a real game changer in the long term, that is the unprecedented availability of user data from the primary market. Indeed, when we consent to the use of cookies we are giving permission to the website owner to track our movements within the website, what items we click on, and the amount of time we spend on each of them. This information becomes incredibly valuable as they form what the Harvard professor and writer Shoshana Zuboff calls “behavioural surplus”, meaning that this data gives insight into consumers’ behaviour and, consequently, can be used to predict – and to influence – the market of the future. Apparently, the upcoming virtual edition of Art Basel will provide its exhibitors with this kind of analytics that will allow galleries to perform quantitative analysis and to understand which artworks received the highest number of views or which ones induced tangible actions. Moreover, platforms such as Art Basel and Frieze online viewing rooms require visitors to log into an account or to provide personal information like full name, phone number and email address. Consequently, art dealers now have all the ingredients to create identifiable individual profiles that outline the user preferences and that could be used to implement personalisation engines.


It is too soon to say whether the art market is ready to strategically benefit from the behavioural surplus, but it is for sure acknowledging that data availability can be turned from being considered as a threat to becoming the most valuable asset. A question that might arise and that would deserve further speculation is whether – in the context of a demand-offer logic – raw data from the primary market will ultimately influence the production of artworks, and therefore our contemporary culture itself. Only time will tell.


Olimpia Saccone is a London-based art business professional specialised in communications and business development within the sector. Olimpia earned a Master’s degree in Art Business with distinction from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London where she also was a guest lecturer for the semester course Art of the Luxury. Following her research interests in the art market ecosystem and in the artists’ career trajectory, Olimpia worked for a talent agency for emerging artists as a business development manager, and she was in charge of commercial partnerships. She is currently advising emerging artists shortlisted for the Ashurst Emerging Artist Prize and she is a contributor to LVH Journal. Olimpia is a member of The International Art Market Studies Association. 

Wet Paint and Artist Market Trajectories

Adrian Ghenie’s ‘wet paint’ lot, The Bridge (2015), which sold for $3.3 million in 2016 at Christie’s in New York – just one year after its creation date.


I’m really excited about our new market analysis, Wet Paint Market Report 2015-2019. It’s a good one and one that was different for us to design, analyze, and write. In this report we’ve looked at art works that have been put up for auction within 3 years or less of their creation dates. These paintings (and also sculptures, photography, and works on paper) have changed hands faster than the paint can dry.


Generally, when talking about a ‘wet paint’ market the term ‘flipping’ is often mentioned. For some in the art world, flipping is a dirty word and denotes speculative buying practices that can harm artists’ careers, especially those just emerging. Flipping can often lead to rapid run-ups in auction prices, which results in a shift in an artist’s career trajectory causing a temporary disequilibrium between economic and cultural value associated with the artist’s market. We outline this in-depth in our Wet Paint Market Report. A strong case study often used when discussing the impacts of flipping is Zombie Formalism – a term coined by artist and critic, Walter Robinson in 2014 to describe a group of young artists who received unprecedented market speculation.


Beginning in 2011, artworks grounded in Abstract Expressionism that incorporated ‘theatrics’ (such as employing fire extinguishers or deploying chewing gum) created buzz in the art world. Critics, like Jerry Saltz, described the works as ‘easily digestible’, ‘decorator-friendly’, and ‘tailor-made for instant digital distribution and viewing’ – a.k.a. Zombie Formalism was made for the market and appealed to the masses, not those who were privy to the inner-workings of the art world. This new group of work arose at an opportune moment when young, new-comer collectors were looking to invest in alternative assets like art. And as a result of speculative practices, ‘bidding wars sent individual works to totals more than 3,000% beyond their prices just two years earlier’.


But by 2015, the tides had changed. And many of the young artists caught in the flipping cross-fire were met with a non-existent, toppling market. Proving that extreme and quick success is not sustainable without the foundations of institutional and discursive support. The Zombie Formalists (as identified by critics and press coverage, and outlined by Artnet) include: Tauba Auerbach (b. 1981), Oscar Murillo (b. 1986), Alex Israel (b. 1982), David Ostrowski (b. 1981), Lucien Smith (b. 1989), Dan Rees (b. 1982), Chen Fei (b. 1983), Jacob Kassay (b. 1984), Wyatt Kahn (b. 1983), Nick Darmstaedter (b. 1988), Israel Lund (b. 1980), Hugh Scott-Douglas (b.1988), Ethan Cook (b.1983), Parker Ito (b. 1986) and Angel Otero (b.1981). This isn’t to say that all of these artists’ markets have suffered the consequences of market speculation – in fact, Tauba Auerbach featured very positively in our May 2020 Contemporary Art Market Confidence Report, both in short- and long-term confidence rankings.


Post-Zombie Formalism apocalypse, we report that the Wet Paint market continues to play a significant role in the market for younger artists. 40.6% of the lots in our data sample were from artists aged 45 and under. Among them was Romanian artist, Adrian Ghenie (b. 1977) whose recently created artworks (created within 3 years or less) accounted for 19.4% of total lots sold and 21.6% of overall auction sales value for the artist in the period 2015 to 2019. 2016 was a peak year for Ghenie, both in terms of lots offered and sales value, making up 62.2% of his Wet Paint market total. The artist’s Wet Paint market has waned since then, with no sales reported in 2018 and $1.1 million in sales in 2019 – suggesting that the level of speculation in his market has faded in recent years.


Wet Paint and Artist Market Trajectories ArtTactic


The intricacy of calibrating an artist’s career trajectory is exemplified by Ghenie’s market. In 2015, Ghenie told The New York Times at the Venice Biennale that he was aware of art market pressures and that he felt the speculation growing around him as an emerging artist. He was, of course, spot on. Ghenie’s market began to build several years prior in 2009 when François Pinault acquired Nickelodeon (2008) and really began to pick up steam when he exhibited at the Palazzo Grassi museum in Venice in 2011. Then, in 2015, Ghenie produced a three-part exhibition for the Romanian pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale. These key activities (amongst many others) provided the foundation for new price levels (both on the primary and secondary markets) to be achieved for the artist.


2011 was the artist’s first appearance at auction where Swimming Pool (2006) sold for £13,925 ($22,500) at Phillips in New York. In two years since this sale, Dr. Mengele (2011) sells for £121,250 at Sotheby’s in London and in 2014, Fake Rothko (2010) achieves £1.4 million. 2016 brought another auction record breaking year for the artist when Nickelodeon (2008) sold for £7.1 million at Christie’s in London – over 500-times the auction record achieved 5 years prior. All prices include buyer’s premium.


This delicate dance between economic and cultural value was (and is) no better understood than by Ghenie’s galleries then and now (he’s currently with Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Nicodim Gallery and Pace Gallery). Gallerist, Thaddaeus Ropac was quoted in 2016 saying, ‘We’re working on major museum shows because this is what he needs now, not another auction record’. I think this was hugely important to recognize and perhaps the life vest Ghenie needed to be saved from market over-speculation.


Today, the speculation around Ghenie’s market seems to have faded. Though, I look forward to seeing if he conquered the art market on ‘fast-forward’ once and for all. And for this, only time will tell. In the short term, things are looking promising for him, as he ranks 8 (out of top 10) on our short-term confidence index for on-the-rise artists.



Through our analysis we found that a large component of the wet paint market is driven by sales for charity – 42% in 2019. Therefore, our report also provides insight into charitable donations from artists and their galleries, and looks into what impact and role these sales have on the market today. Read the full report here.

Announcing KAWS: New Artist Market Report

KAWS, GONE, at NGV, Melbourne


KAWS. The moniker hardly needs an introduction now that Brian Donnelly’s international fame and loyal fan base, of both collectibles and blue-chip collectors alike, has been developing since the 1990s and a topic of conversation in the public eye of mass media for a decade. The Jersey City native is the latest to be featured by ArtTactic in KAWS: Artist Market Report in continuation from our series of artist focused reports on market movers, which include extensive in-depth summative reviews of curatorial histories, analysis of public and private avenues including brand collaborations, market performance analytics and additional proprietary evaluations. Mentioned in the UBS Art Market Report 2020 with a total yearly market of $108 million in 2019 (including buyer’s premium), Donnelly’s momentous market growth was a significant contribution to the youngest segment of the Post-War and Contemporary Market; 23% of the total volume consisting of works made within the last 20 years. Whether chosen solely for its illustrative allure or as a reverse of “S.W.A.K.”, an early twentieth century phrase meaning “Sealed with a Kiss” and recycled by SoCal’s Raymond Pettibon, the four letters of KAWS may very well be engraved into the annals of art history for perpetuity. 


KAWS today


One of the early dominoes that set this phenomena in motion was Donnelly’s omnipresent COMPANION, produced in a limited first edition of 1,500 toys with the Japanese streetwear brand Bounty Hunter in 1999. Plainly explained as an altered Mickey Mouse with KAWS’ signature skull and crossbone head and X-ed out eyes (developed from his graffiti days vandalizing Calvin Klein ads in NYC, and metaphorically described as the main protagonist of lonely and weary innocent dreams in his cast of recurring character motifs) COMPANION has grown with the acceleration of the artist’s career, figuratively and literally. From 7.75 inches in 1999 to a 121-foot long inflatable that has traveled the world and made headlines at CNN and TIME Magazine when it was installed in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor in 2019, the 21-year-old COMPANION has now graduated to AR (Augmented Reality).


The recent global launch of KAWS’ collaboration with Acute Art saw COMPANION (EXPANDED HOLIDAY), a two week long exhibition taking place simultaneously in twelve major cities across the world featuring a large-scale AR COMPANION floating in the clouds. Originally from March 12th to March 26th, the exhibition has been extended, except in Doha and Melbourne, with the New York location switched from Times Square to the Brooklyn Museum. In London, it can be viewed through the Acute Art app hovering over the Thames by Millenium Bridge. 


Acute Art is widely referenced as a VR and AR Production House, however it’s actual leverage is well beyond a technical assist. With a fresh history of working with artists such as Marina Abramović, Olafur Eliasson, Cao Fei, Jeff Koons and Antony Gormley, Acute Art is not just a gateway to other realities, it is a platform where collectors can purchase limited editions at timely drops, trade, sell, share and swap. This massive global display of KAWS across continents is an acquisition call to collectors at all tiers. From $6.99 a day for a time-based acquisition of one sculpture to $10,000 to own COMPANION (EXPANDED), a 1.8 meter AR Sculpture part of an edition of 25 plus five artist proofs. The latest AR drops have been in concert with his album art collaboration with American rapper and musician Travis Scott, whose new single with Kid Cudi ‘THE SCOTTS’ has been deemed the top stream in 2020 on Spotify. With this pairing of Acute Art and KAWS, not to mention ‘THE SCOTTS’ vinyl on its third and final release, democratization of art has squarely hit a new level. 


Aside from this major campaign, KAWS has also been active during the current pandemic, selling limited edition shaped prints through his Instagram @kaws aimed at his 2.9 million fan following. In order to acquire the prints, priced at $1,200 and editioned at 25 plus five artist proofs, interested parties must request by email. The effort to directly help the following charities went underway from April 10th to the 17th: FreeArtsNYC, Henry Street Settlement, Food Bank NYC, Jersey City COVID-19 Relief Fund, and the Maimonides Medical Hospital in Brooklyn.


KAWSation and Correlation


Our data dive into the world of KAWS shows a healthy international following, with 40% of auction value achieved in Hong Kong over the complete span of Donnelly’s secondary market appearances, from 2008 to present date. With an increase in total market value from 2018 to 2019 of 238%, last year’s sales outperformed pre-sale mid-estimate values by 40%. This surge in demand has resulted in a 200% average price increase for repeat sales, with the highest return set at 396% for Untitled (Kimpsons 6 Package Painting Series), a paradox of a sixteen inch square painting that has been packaged in plastic with a cardboard backing. More insights from the Repeat Sale Analysis can be found within the report, along with details regarding price segmentation, sell-through rate, career to market contexts, full market breakdowns of paintings, prints and sculpture, and more. 


To elaborate on the remarkable year that KAWS’ work experienced at auction, nine of the top ten records were achieved in 2019. These paintings range across motifs and themes, as many of his characters hit blue chip status. At number four is In the Woods (2002), a triptych featuring the artist’s rendition of Disney’s Snow White among her forest friends, which sold for $3.2 million at Christie’s last May. The Walk Home (2012) shows KAWS’ Spongebob riff with arms raised in alarm and sold the same week at Phillips, generating just under $6 million on an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000, achieving 8.5 times the mid-estimate. The largest canvas from the artist’s KIMPSONS series, Untitled (Kimpsons #1) (2004) sold this past October for $6.2 million, and at the top is another KIMPSONS work, The KAWS Album (2005), which sold in April of 2019 for $12.7 million at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.    


The KAWStroversy


The overwhelming stratifications of KAWS’ audience and price segments in relation to his mass popularity is not the normal triple threat that the art world is used to handling, and in many instances exerting a modicum of control over. While KAWS has now been exclusively represented by Skarstedt for almost a year, after working with Perrotin since 2008 and joint representation for a year and a half, his work has not yet been greeted with gusto at every level of curatorial acclaim, but that may soon be changing with a major museum survey ongoing at the National Gallery of Victoria, and a substantial exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum planned for 2021.  


Controversy surrounding the high prices at auction that collectors were willing to pay spiked in the media around the time of the record $12.7 million sale, and certainly in the wake of it. In late March of last year, Artnet’s feature on KAWS breaking the rules cited advisor Josh Baer of The Baer Faxt as skeptical of KAWS’ lasting power, questioning the true cultural depth and significance that the artist’s work will retain in a twenty-year hindsight. Then spurred by the April 1st sale, The Art Newspaper’s Anny Shaw remarked on the superficial nature of the work in her opinion piece “Why KAWS is not a great artist”, calling it “sheer conceptual bankruptcy”. 


The following month, a special editorial in The New York Times featured the artist and his rocket trajectory. In the article, Donnelly is aware of the art world’s scrutiny of his meteoric rise from “bottom to top”, and Anne Pasternak, Director of the Brooklyn Museum shed some light on the decision to give the artist a major survey in 2021. Picked up by Artnet, ArtCritique and making a later appearance in the South China Morning Post, Pasternak’s insight is as follows: 


“It makes the art world uncomfortable,” said Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum. “But Brian doesn’t respect those traditional hierarchies.” Ms. Pasternak took time to come around, too. “I didn’t see the appeal initially,” she said of his work. “But artists love him. They all said, ‘Go visit him. ’And I’ve learned to listen to artists.” (From The New York Times, XX Marks the Spot: KAWS Goes Global)


And so, it’s possible that the tables have now turned with William S. Smith, Editor of Art in America, taking a stand last September with his in-depth critique that perhaps puts the one-off cursory comments to shame in “What the Rise of KAWS Says About the Art World’s Ailments”. Addressing the heart of Donnelly’s quest for universal relatability and familiarity as a way to connect as well as the varied cultural ties in the artist’s aesthetic and business getting, Smith writes that the preoccupation with death and loneliness doesn’t discriminate across demographics and sympathizes with the human condition. His words, “If the art world gatekeepers dismiss these objects out of hand, they risk missing in the image of weakness a moment of self-recognition,” seem to cut through the noise and grant fresh eyes to a club that never stopped looking for the next hoop that KAWS will need to jump through. 


KAWS tomorrow


The controversy itself may signal KAWS’ success just as well as the climbing auction prices. It is the nature of our credo that movements overtake their predecessors by offering innovative answers to the dictating question ‘What is Art?’ in light of the new and changing forces that will define the zeitgeist of tomorrow. It is more likely that Donnelly has slipped under this radar for so long because rather than part of a neat group that can be classified by historians as a “School”, the ubiquitous movement of KAWS has been made on the ground and at the individual level, a phenomena that may become increasingly more apparent in our time. 


With a title that is more pertinent than ever, KAWS: Companionship in the Age of Loneliness is the September 20, 2019 – April 13, 2020 survey which is now virtually accessible on The National Gallery of Victoria’s website. The exhibition of over 100 works features the vast range of Donnelly’s productivity over the years and also prominently announces the largest bronze sculpture that KAWS has ever created, a massive commission titled GONE that is situated in the inner courtyard and was assembled from twelve pieces over five days, reaching a height of nearly twenty-three feet tall and weighing fourteen tons. The monument is, of course, none other than COMPANION, holding a lifeless muppet in its arms that the artist calls “BFF”. 


Despite the rounded cartoonish nature of the KAWS aesthetic, like many of the artist’s works it is a dark scene. COMPANION stands resolutely solid and in control, with the same sense of assuredness and carrying-on seen in one of the preeminent early COMPANION sculptures, COMPANION (Clean Slate), which sold in November of 2018 at Phillips for a hammer price of $1.65 million. With one foot almost always in mid-step, it is a message grounded in reality that moving forward is moving on, and that we may need to carry each other to make it through.