Anastasia Petrovskaia and Maria Korolevskaya, founders of The Art Partners, an art collection management office based in London and operating internationally, share their thoughts on the art world during the pandemic: on the struggles, opportunities and the future of the industry.
How did you start The Art Partners?
When we launched The Art Partners five years ago our goal was to go beyond the ordinary art consulting business model and focus on the Family Art Office concept where clients receive tailored approach and exceptional collection management support. We understood the importance of an exclusive and niche enterprise to look after clients, not only during the purchasing process but for years to follow. It’s about creating conversation and building a community of passionate people. We organize private visits to artist studios, exhibitions, art fairs and museums.
How are art galleries in LA, NY and London dealing with shutdowns and other restrictions? Have many closed or will they soon close? While the answer seems to be overwhelmingly negative, is there any silver lining?
Yes, it’s been a difficult year for art galleries, and since March 2020 many shut for months. Even as restriction eased, galleries still can’t recover since social distancing measures allow a few clients inside a gallery. In the first half of 2020 gallery sales dropped 36% on average, according to UBS&Art Basel. Galleries rely on human interaction, and a major part of income comes from art fairs. As a result, the segment is hit the hardest, especially smaller galleries with turnover under $500,000 a year. Many galleries have laid off employees but thankfully only a small percentage of galleries have decided to shut down completely.
On a more positive note, galleries have made up for lost in-person and art fair sales by embracing online formats. Galleries use their websites, Online Viewing Rooms and third-party aggregators to sell art, as well as uniting efforts. For example David Zwirner introduced Platform, dedicated each month to a different city and offering other galleries to showcase artists. The current trend toward the digitalisation of gallery sales will continue in 2021 and beyond.
What about art fairs….?
By the end of the year, almost all art fairs switched to the Online Viewing Rooms model and adjusted user experience to meet client needs during the pandemic. Our favorite was Art Basel and Untitled, and recently Fiac had a great user experience. But, we still must see how the changes will impact art fairs: Which will survive?; Will there be fewer?; Will they be smaller in size? We hope the art calendar won’t be cancelled in 2021, but Art Basel HK already shifted its date to May, and September for Basel.
What about collectors? Is the current market situation favorable to collectors?
There has been a drop in the number of paintings sold at auctions compared to the previous year, according to published data. However, auction houses just released their end of year reports, and there are signs that give us reason for hope. Sotheby’s and Christie’s attracted new clients that account for 36% and 40% of total sales, respectively; these new clients were largely millennials. Sotheby’s private sales also increased by 57% (almost £1 billion) and Christie’s by 50%. Hence, the shift was of course for collectors to keep buying, though buying online. Without being able to visit auction houses in person, collectors were ‘forced’ to purchase artworks online. Therefore, collectors who were able to adapt to the new normal haven’t experienced any significant difficulties, auction houses have made it fairly easy to buy and sell artworks online. On the downside, this move towards digitalisation has negatively impacted the primary market and emerging artists. As collectors were more confident in buying artists they were already familiar with.
You mentioned that in 2020 auction houses saw an increase in new buyers, especially younger ones. There’s a stereotype that art investments are only for the mega-rich, so how can you explain this phenomenon during a global financial crisis caused by COVID? How wealthy does one have to be to start collecting art?
We advise clients to begin by investing comfortable amounts and increasing with time, if their financial situation allows. When you begin to collect art the key is not only your money but your time. Regarding why the number of collectors increased over the last year, one of the reasons is active digitalisation of the art world due to the pandemic, which has democratised the market, making prices transparent and more accessible too (so one can see that apart from very expensive pieces there are thousands of much more affordable works on offer). This has freed many from prejudice, as well as making collecting much less intimidating – to buy something online rather than going into the gallery. This is especially the case for younger generation. The market is no longer as exclusive as it once has been, it is no longer restricted to high-net-worth collectors who have good relationships with dealers, auctioneers and gallerists. We’ve also noticed that recently more new young collectors became our clients. Also, there are lots of interest in NFTs and digital art mainly from business and tech background individuals, not necessarily a traditional type of collector who goes to the art fairs and biennials.
If the art market is more transparent and entry barriers are dropping, should an emerging art collector work with an art consultancy firm or any ‘middle man’? Will you be adjusting the way your company works?
Our company helps with exactly that. We bring certainty to the client. Our expertise, knowledge of the art history and connections allow us to select and find the best works based on client’s taste and current trends. Furthermore, we understand that the majority of emerging collectors will be unable to dedicate the right amount of time to learn more about art and explore the global art scene. So we’re not afraid to become irrelevant in the future. Moreover, we’re gladly the bridge that unites new technology with the right audience. There are many interesting startups working with blockchain and AI in the art field and plenty of collectors haven’t heard about them. To be able to make a transition to a technology-run world we still need human recourses to do that.
What do you think about artists? How are they coping professionally and psychologically with COVID and not being able to live and work as before?
This past year has mostly affected artists personal projects and exhibitions, which were cancelled or postponed. Museums have struggle a lot, but it’s a different topic. Speaking about artists’ work, they could continue as before and perhaps, more effectively with less pressure from intense art fair calendars and overexposure. Besides, they are supporting one another through great initiatives, such as the Artists Support Pledge. Of course it has been more vulnerable for emerging artists as they are only on the stage of earning their recognition, although social media channels and popularization of online sales were quite helpful.
What are your plans for the future?
Our digital collection management platform, the Art Vault, is nearly complete. It is going to be our first tech product, which will allow our clients to keep all of the information on their collection online and easily manage it. In the future, we will aim to expand our business and move further outside the art world. We want to spread the message and to influence a synergy of art with the fields of science and technology; together with reaching wider audiences, developing our artist residencies, improving our work with clients and engaging in new exciting collaborations.