After the Covid-19 plague began to spread out, auction houses, galleries, art fairs found themselves in uncharted territory, trying to find a way to manage their business and keep their activities alive. There was not a single company or artists worldwide that has not felt the virus’s impact and the art world has been one of the most stricken.
Gallerists, fair organizers and members working in the art field, have long said they feel the need to push forward and innovate their approach and methodologies in dealing with artworks, selling and exhibiting them, but that they were too busy with their business – scattered all over the world – to really make these propositions applicable. Suddenly, the opportunity became real once the Covid-19 became a global concern. An industry like the creative one, which has become more and more synonymous of hyper-connection, global mobility, and ephemeral experiences based on temporary events, all of a sudden came to a blunt standstill. Places which were accustomed to making an experience of art, were involved in a general shutdown. Consequently, the art market underwent drastic reschedule or even suspension. What was the reaction of the art industry? Which strategies did they use? Did they truly rethink their own structure, or they just postpone their main activities waiting for normality to resume?
After the closure of the Tefaf Maastricht art fair on 11th March 2020 (after only four days from the inauguration) in response to the pandemic, several exhibitors immediately offered virtual viewing rooms to clients and technological strategies became fundamental to keep up business as well as reliability in a field made of intimate relationships. In this regard, it is interesting to see what has changed before and after the pandemic and how it forced the art industry in looking for new strategies to survive. It goes without saying that the online virtual experience immediately became a concrete solution to keep the art market still working.
“I’d been looking at private viewing room options for a while, and we quickly had to adapt during Tefaf, as did many of the other dealers. The feedback from clients and others has been very positive”[i], claimed Ben Tomlinson, gallery director at Robilant + Voena. Unlike a public website, that is the most obvious thing we might expect nowadays from all kind of institutions, online viewing rooms require a user’s data to enter and was a smart way for gallerists to still make clients feel part of socialite occasions. Right after this event, a lot of other initiatives came to lockdown and the art market was forced to rely almost entirely on the online world.
According to some data, the covid disruption was also a buying opportunity. “I feel more confident about getting new clients online than at most art fairs,” said dealer David Zwirner. “If there were fewer regional art fairs, but stronger online offerings, it could do everyone a favor — and the environment.”[ii] Those like him who have already invested in that direction, say they are reaping the rewards now. Another point which is worth noticing, is the shaping of a new target group of online buyers and collectors that rely on the online world much more than the past, avoiding the prejudice related to the internet sales or artwork presentations. Besides giving opportunity to new platforms, younger workers or new buyers, online artworld will help in relieve the cost pressures of live events and might provide a more sustainable model for the art industry in the near future. These initiatives show how the art world is trying to become more open and collaborative in these difficult times and that more sustainable and local oriented business models for this field are all but impossible. The DiGIPORT project, following this wave of innovative approaches, aims at offering the opportunity for artists to present their works online via a virtual venue that could help them in promoting, showing and, possibly, selling their production.
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[i] Melanie Gerlis, Financial Times, 19 March, 2020 https://www.ft.com/content/85fc2062-6847-11ea-a6ac-9122541af204
[ii] Langfritz J., (2020). Lockdown Increases Interest in Online Art Market. Singulart Magazine, 24 April, 2020. Retrived form https://blog.singulart.com/en/2020/04/24/lockdown-increases-interest-in-online-art-market/
 Melanie Gerlis, Financial Times, 19 March, 2020 https://www.ft.com/content/85fc2062-6847-11ea-a6ac-9122541af204  Langfritz J., (2020). Lockdown Increases Interest in Online Art Market. Singulart Magazine, 24 April, 2020. Retrived form https://blog.singulart.com/en/2020/04/24/lockdown-increases-interest-in-online-art-market/