When the editors of ARTnews first endeavored on the project of foreseeing the Next Big Things to prove significant around the art world, the future had a different cast to it than would soon be the case when the coronavirus crisis struck. But the future is always in flux—and thus always suited for the exercise of conjecture and imagination. In consultation with art world professionals—artists, dealers, curators, museum administrators—we identified dynamics and ideas on the horizon, some with trajectories tracing into the past, others more sudden in origination. What follows is a survey of that horizon as presented in the Summer 2020 issue of ARTnews.
The Market Will Expand Online…
In March, when Jodi Pollack, co-worldwide head of Sotheby’s 20th Century Design, moved her mid-season sale online, she and others in her department were concerned. They had some factors in their favor: the design market had been strong and growing, and online they had a captive audience to woo with choice property and reasonable estimates. But then, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, the world had been turned upside down.
What ended up happening was better than they expected: the sale amounted to $4 million, the highest-ever total for an online sale of 20th-century design, with a “Moorish” twisted-wire chandelier executed by Tiffany Studios in the late 19th century selling for $300,000—20 times its high estimate. Sotheby’s retained its usual geographic breadth of bidding (with 31 countries represented), and 29 bidders counted as first-time buyers in the design category, including some doing their first business ever with the firm.
By early April, overall dedicated online sales at Sotheby’s had brought in some $36 million—more than double the take in same period in 2019. And as the lockdown continued, Clare McAndrew, an economist behind the annual Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report told the New York Times, “This is the stimulus the art market needed to move online.”
Over the past decade at Christie’s, figures for live bidding have gone down while those for online bidding have gone up. “People learn about the objects and experience them fundamentally differently than ten years ago,” said Marc Porter, chairman of Christie’s Americas. Figures from last year had already shown growth in Christie’s online space: Total sales of art online were up 11 percent over 2018, and of all global clients, 64 percent bought or bid online. Of new buyers, 60 percent did their business in online sales, and online sales continue to recruit the largest number of new buyers, at around 41 percent.
While online sales still make up a small portion of the overall art market—in 2019, they represented just 9 percent of a total $64 billion in global sales, according to the Art Basel/UBS Report—Porter said he is seeing “an acceleration of the businesses we’ve been building. More will be online. More will be private. There will be an active auction market for people who prefer to transact that way.”
At Sotheby’s, Nicole Schloss, co-head of contemporary art day auctions in New York, said, “Simultaneously with galleries online viewing rooms growing, … we’ve been able to drive traffic to Sothebys.com for bidding in both online-only sales and live sales.” And art fairs, too, have migrated online. Marc Spiegler, director of Art Basel, said even when the world returns to its in-person ways, he foresees an accelerated shift toward digital promotion. “Galleries that have been forced to think about how they can promote their programs digitally—whether that’s online studio visits with artists, or online viewing rooms—will continue to take advantage of such features,” he said.
Signaling how galleries have started to think in terms of content, Sam Orlofsky, a longtime director at Gagosian who has spearheaded the mega-gallery’s online viewing rooms, said, “this is not a tech story—this is a media story.” During Art Basel Hong Kong in 2019, Gagosian set a new benchmark for an online sale when a painting by Albert Oehlen sold from its viewing room for $6 million. As a lead-up to that sale, Orlofsky and Gagosian CEO Andrew Fabricant appeared in a video on the gallery’s website discussing both the painting and its market—and such promotional tools will continue to be important in the future. “This is a question of having the ability to reach as many people—and particularly as many new people—as possible,” Orlofsky said. “If you don’t have a platform to reach people, they aren’t just going to stumble upon you.”
Online content is important for the auction houses too. Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been moving away from printed catalogues, and more dynamic storytelling adds value, said Matthew Rubinger, head of marketing at Christie’s. In 2019, visitors to Christie’s various content channels grew by 32 percent, and people who visit Christie’s website and view the content—stories, videos, and so forth—are some 30 percent more likely to bid in a sale than those who visit the site and don’t linger to look.
“Current events will have transformative impact on events in the art market,” said Pollack, Sotheby’s co-head of design, back in April. “Technology will play a huge part in how we execute going forward.”
Performance Art Will Go Virtual
“It was strange—I was alone in an apartment—but I found out that 450 people were logged on and there was all this feedback afterward,” David Grubbs said of a recent performance he contributed to a program called “The Quarantine Concerts.” “People were tuning in from Europe and Suriname.”
The prospect of performance art in the virtual realm may seem at odds with a movement that prizes presence and connection in real time, but it is becoming more and more acceptable—and even appealing—to practitioners and audiences all over. Opera companies and theatrical endeavors have found success with broadcasts in venues like cinemas for years, and now the genres are expanding as the screens shrink in size.
Grubbs knows his way around thinking through the finer points of audience engagement as a poet (who often collaborates with Susan Howe) and the author of books including Now that the audience is assembled and The Voice in the Headphones. And he has good company in others who imagine a lasting future for online performance. Tim Griffin, executive director and chief curator of the Kitchen—a decades-old performance haven in New York—said online is a world waiting for more engagement of any and all kinds. “We try to experiment as much as possible, and I feel like it opens up possibilities that are new,” he said of programming that will continue in the mold of “Kitchen Broadcasts” that debuted this past spring. “As curators, we have talked about a desire for a kind of intimacy, and even if you’re not having a palpable experience of people in a room, you can have a personal connection that could be like somebody whispering in your ear. It can be really resonant, enriching, and soulful in a way.”
Art and Science Will Come Together
As scientists have worked on issues as overwhelming and abstract as climate change, artists have been active for their part helping convey complicated matters by other means. The environmentally minded TBA21-Academy has commissioned research-intensive artworks related to the warming of the world’s oceans and problems that will inevitably result. More and more institutions are following similar lines to devise scientific endeavors in increasingly ambitious ways.
Pioneer Works in Brooklyn has run an extensive science program bringing collaborators like physicists and astronomers into its artistic fold, with decorated scientists participating in programs that are far more than just novel lectures. And the next edition of the Getty Foundation’s Pacific Standard Time exhibition series, slated for 2024, will take up the theme “Art x Science x LA” to explore artistic connections between Los Angeles and its scientific communities, including the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. One of the participating institutions is the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, which has a long history of exhibitions based on its medical and scientific holdings and a long-standing partnership with JPL, plus an artist-in-residence program with the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech). “We see this as an opportunity to show how the Huntington lives and breathes on a daily basis at the intersection of art and science,” said Christina Nielsen, director of the Huntington’s art museum.
Collectivity and Collaboration Will Be the Way Forward
“Collectivity is always in the air because we as people belong to a whole, and one of the interesting things about the art world is, it allows you to pose questions about the nature of that belonging over and over again—that’s what artists do,” said David Lewis, whose namesake gallery in New York participated in mega-dealer David Zwirner’s shared online “Platform” viewing-room program this past spring when the economic fallout from the coronavirus brought galleries together to help support fellow operations of varying size. Though it was born of necessity, the experience of “connecting and introducing and reaching out” to different networks offered a “commendable and exciting” model for collaboration in the future, Lewis said. And it followed a shift he noticed in his artists’ thinking at the time—a migration of interests from the micro to the macro scale. “It’s like in 1968 when people first saw pictures of the Earth from space,” he said. “There’s this sudden awareness that we’re one globe, one planet—almost like we’ve become a single pulsing organism.”
Collective endeavors have taken on increasing currency in recent years, with platforms such as the multicity Condo gallery-share program helping to spur business among small and mid-tier operations and museums working together. But the future has more in store—and likely of a nature we haven’t seen before.
As executive director of the Foundation for Contemporary Arts (FCA), Stacy Tenenbaum Stark is part of a coalition of leaders of grant-giving organizations who combined forces this spring to form the Artist Relief Fund, with ongoing plans to allocate emergency support during the coronavirus crisis after an initial launch in April with $10 million raised. Its scale may be new, but the spirit behind the effort taps a long-running legacy that began in 1963—more than a half-century ago—when Jasper Johns and John Cage came together and founded the FCA to raise money to help stage a performance by their fellow artist friend Merce Cunningham. “A through-line of artists being generous and wanting to help their own has always been there,” said Stark. Asked if she thinks that line will continue and even intensify in the future, she said, “I hope it will—and I think it will.”
The kind of collectivity that artists cherish can vary in character. “If you’re collaborating or working with someone you don’t like or who doesn’t like you, that can be much more interesting than everyone agreeing,” said Robert Wilson, who as a theater director and founder of the Watermill Center—a collectively inclined “laboratory for the arts and humanities”—has worked with expansive casts since the 1960s.
Then there is the case of an upstart project initiated in part by artist Camille Henrot when the need for protective equipment for health-care workers presented itself this past spring. As a member of a private listserv through which artists engage with fabricators, technicians, and others, Henrot raised the prospect of donating materials that many had in their studios and—with the aid of others in the network who came to be known as the Mask Crusaders—helped produce and distribute needed supplies in dozens of cities within days. “I’ve always been interested in the dynamic between the individual and the collective,” Henrot said, “and there’s something magical about how it happened.”
As to how best to keep the spirit alive, Henrot suggested adhering to a simple directive: “Swim in the water and help people who do not have the force to swim or the possibility to stay afloat.” Aquatic imagery applies, she added, because “in water, you constantly need to move.”
Galleries Will Battle with Auction Houses
In January, just over a month after financier and storied art aficionado Donald Marron died, there came news that the major auction houses—Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips—were submitting bids for his collection, which he’d built over the course of six decades and was valued at nearly half a billion dollars. Rumors floated, suggesting that works from his holdings—including top-quality pieces by the likes of Picasso and Gerhard Richter—would appear on the block as early as May.
But in February came even more surprising news: Marron’s trove of some 300 artworks would go not to an auction house but to a collective collaboration between three mega-galleries—Pace, Gagosian, and Acquavella—who would split them up and sell them on their own. Exhibitions of the material planned for May at Pace and Gagosian were postponed during the coronavirus crisis, but the deal itself is still very much on—and art advisers are convinced that the arrangement could set a precedent and become a weapon in dealers’ arsenals to battle the ever more powerful auction houses. “This is the first of many such deals,” said one adviser who works with high-value transactions. “We will definitely see other estates and divorces executing similar arrangements. It’s a big blow for the auction houses.”
A prized estate, the adviser added, can get a higher dollar offer from a consortium of well-connected galleries than from an auction house. As another adviser put it, “under a billion dollars, galleries are a formidable foe for an auction house—when they collaborate.”
Alex Katz’s Market Will Catch Up With His Importance
Alex Katz, who this summer turns 93, is poised for liftoff. The Guggenheim Museum is planning a major retrospective, young artists have been looking at his work, and the market is starting to appreciate the artist’s depth.
At auction, the excitement started in February 2019 when, for the first time, one of his paintings passed the $1 million mark. (The 1987 portrait Ada and Louise went for $1.2 million at Christie’s London.) Then, last October, Phillips London reset the record when the 1972 painting Blue Umbrella I soared past its $1.4 million presale estimate to make $4.1 million.
An argument could be made that Katz is as historically important as peers like David Hockney (whose auction record is $91 million) and Gerhard Richter (whose auction record is $46.3 million)—and yet his market has lagged behind theirs. But dealer Thaddaeus Ropac, who has represented Katz for 25 years with his galleries in London, Paris, and Switzerland, has seen a steady rise in interest for the American artist in Europe, starting with institutions and, more recently, private collectors. Ropac’s first show of Katz’s paintings in Paris in the early ’90s “was a total surprise to many Europeans, including museum curators,” he said. The Centre Pompidou, which held works by American peers like Jasper Johns but not one by Katz, bought one. And the fever spread, as Ropac said; at last count he’d sold almost 50 pieces to European institutions, with the Albertina Museum in Vienna acquiring work by the artist in depth.
American institutions have always had strong Katz holdings—the Met alone has works from various periods of his career. But while European museums mounted survey shows, American institutions lagged behind. “For years we were talking to many American institutions, trying to see how they could honor him with a major retrospective,” Ropac said. Then, in January, the Guggenheim announced a Katz retrospective planned for 2022. “The announcement of that show has affected the level of interest in Katz—it has changed the market.”
Other factors have contributed to the resurgence of interest—not least the fact that, at 92, Katz is still painting. And 10 years ago, he made a decision that added a certain currency to his profile when, for his New York representation, he left the well-established Pace Gallery for the younger, hipper Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. (And this even though mega-gallerist Gagosian had expressed interest in taking him on.) Brown has mounted numerous exhibitions of new paintings and sees Katz as capturing the present moment. “To be painting lived and experienced moments at 92 with a fearlessness and a confidence—I don’t know any artist a quarter or a third his age who can do that,” Brown said. “It seems as though with every painting he jumps off the cliff with complete confidence he can fly.”
Brown added, in mind of a legacy still propagating, “young artists and the primary market have great respect and a great response to that. He’s painting in the last period of his life and he is doing it at full speed.”