2020 was undoubtedly an unprecedented year, the year of online and the virtual.
Like all sectors, the world of art was also affected by the pandemic, we have seen a new initiative and a re-directing of resources, an adaptation to new display and communication methods.
In response to the lockdowns that forced us at to stay home, museums, galleries and institutions quickly organized themselves to offer visits to their collections on virtual tours.
Not only the exhibitions, but also the fairs have become visitable and commercially available in viewing rooms. I believe that this phenomenon could remain active even after the reopening of the spaces.
Social networks like Instagram and Facebook have become the meeting place between artists, organizations and the public, offering interesting live broadcasts and other forms of communication and it is good, because the art world was almost the only sector not yet operating in this mode. Many museums around the world have immediately turned to these platforms to give access to their collections without borders.
Other major exhibitions, such as the retrospective at the Tate Modern dedicated to the South African artist Zanele Muholi, the dialogue between Tracey Emin and Edvard Munch at the Royal Academy of Arts, Artemisia Gentileschi at the National Gallery in London, have been canceled, postponed or reopened for short periods.
There has also been a lot of talk about the traveling exhibition on Philip Guston which would have opened in June at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, canceled due to the pandemic and further postponed due to some works depicting the Ku Klux Klan that could be misinterpreted by the public and attract criticism in the year of the “Black Lives Matter”.
The movement engaged in the fight against racism has in fact also involved the art sector, triggering reactions of solidarity from many artists and institutions. In recent years we have already witnessed a great growth in Afro-American art – a sign that something has been changing for some time – and now I think they will have even more visibility. Just during the London auctions in February we witnessed new amazing personal records for the most popular black artists of the moment, Tschabalala Self, Amoako Boafo and Jordan Casteel. It is no coincidence that this year the Black Lives Matter movement is at the top of ArtReview‘s Power 100.
Tschabalala Self, “Princess”, 2017
Fabric, acrylic, hand hair and oil on canvas
Sold for £ 435,000 including tax at the Phillips auction in London on February 13, 2020
Amoako Boafo, “The Lemon Bathing Suit”, 2019
Oil painting on canvas
Sold for £ 675,000 including tax at the Phillips auction in London on February 13, 2020
In addition to the exhibitions, the Biennials have also been postponed, first of all the Venice art review that will take place in 2022 – henceforth it will always be held in “even” years.
Almost all fairs have been canceled – places par excellence for collectors and gallery owners from different countries – with a few exceptions such as Manifesta 13 in Marseille, which in any case closed one month early.
After canceling all three 2020 appointments, Art Basel also postpones the Hong Kong edition scheduled for March 2021 and postponed to the end of May. But there is also good news, as Online Viewing Rooms and other multimedia experiences have brought a decent level of sales, confirmed by the lively exchanges at Art Basel Miami.
Frieze Art Fair for the London appointment has combined virtual tours with small events in the city and for the first time the galleries have transformed their London offices into real booths to be visited by appointment.
Frieze then postponed the Los Angeles stage to the end of July 2021, while in February there will be 3 days of special (online) programming to celebrate 30 years of activity.
2020 has therefore triggered many changes and all the actors of art – artists, gallery owners, curators, directors of fairs and museums – have had to rethink organizational methods, the maintenance of existing structures and the development of new strategies.
But as we well know: not all evil comes to harm.
Some have allied themselves and almost all digitized. And thanks to this, a new era of communication will begin also for the world of art, which had remained among the last in modernization.
Of course there were some difficulties to face, such as the staff cuts also made by art giants – from large galleries such as Perrotin, David Zwirner and Pace Gallery to important institutions such as the Guggenheim in New York, the Tate Modern and the Royal Academy of London – all forced to close for a very long period.
Probably, when they can reopen and return to normality, things will return to the way they used to, but digitization will certainly remain an additional service forever.
In addition to the Coronavirus, Brexit is also destined to partially change the geography of European art.
Some galleries have in fact decided to close their offices in London, such as Marian Goodman, who will close the space at the end of the year to give space to a new exhibition mode – “Marian Goodman Projects”. The initiative will organize exhibitions in different places in London depending on the nature of the works and the project.
David Zwirner, a gallery with offices in New York, Hong Kong and London, to cope with Brexit has also opened a gallery in Paris, a city destined to become the European center of contemporary art. Pace Gallery and White Cube also followed his example.
A news that closes a chapter is the closure of the famous Blein/Southern gallery founded in London in 2010 with offices also in New York and Berlin. In February, the closure of all three galleries was announced and there are rumors that the causes are serious financial problems, to the point of having to return the works to the artists with the shipping costs to be borne by them.
Another certainly unexpected announcement for the entire art market is the closure after 26 years of activity of the New York gallery GB enterprise of Gavin Brown, a great dealer and pioneer to join and become a partner of Gladstone Gallery (by Barbara Gladstone). It will present only 10 of its artists: Joan Jonas, Ed Atkins, Arthur Jafa, Rachel Rose, laToya Ruby Frazier, Kerstin Brätsch, Alex Katz, Frances Stark, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Mark Leckey.
Laura Owens, Jos de Gruyter, Herald Thrys instead will not be part of Gladstone Gallery.
The value of collaboration between different realities was therefore rediscovered – even among those that were previously considered competitors.
In Italy, for example, Italics was born, a consortium that brings together over 60 Italian galleries of contemporary, ancient and modern art aimed at enhancing the territory of the Bel Paese with advice to tourists ranging from historical and artistic beauties to visit to food and wine excellences not to be missed.
The “Milano Art Community” was created in Milan, a platform managed by some of the most important galleries, foundations and non-profit spaces in the city to promote the initiatives of its members.
As we have seen, in this atmosphere of great uncertainty there was also no lack of positive implications such as the many solidarity initiatives that involved established artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Tracey Emin, Marlene Dumas, Martin Parr and others, but also galleries and houses of art auction like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Artcurial – all engaged in numerous charity sales.
Hauser & Wirth recently launched the “Artists for New York” fundraiser: more than 100 artists have decided to donate their works for a charity sale in support of some institutions in the city including MoMA PS1, the New Museum and the High Line Art. (Hauser & Wirth has waived any sales commission).
Also Italy has activated many initiatives of charity, from the personal mobilization of artists such as Alessandro Piangiamore who sold the work “La cera di Roma” (purchased by Veronica Siciliani Fendi) on Instragram, the proceeds of which were donated to the Hospital Spallanzani in Rome, up to initiatives by auction houses such as Blindarte with “Art To Stop Covid-19” – the proceeds went to the Lombardy Region and the Pascale Institute in Naples; or the Cambi auction house with “Design Loves Milano”, a charity auction to help the Luigi Sacco hospital.
In a year hit by so many losses, Italy and the whole world have also mourned one of the greatest curators and art critics in history. Germano Celant passed away at the age of 80 precisely because of Covid-19, perhaps taken in New York during one of the last fairs in attendance, the Armory Show.
Theorist and founder of Arte Povera, Celant had made Italian artists known to the world. Curator at the Guggenheim in New York and of many exhibitions in foreign museums, director of the Venice Biennale in 1997, since 2015 he was the artistic director of the Prada Foundation.
The major auction houses – forced to cancel or postpone scheduled appointments as early as March – have run for cover by taking on different forms rather than traditional ones. The use of online, private rooms, the growing Asian market and the launch of “cross category” auctions – an approach that has changed the offer model by merging the various departments – have partly leveled the situation. However, the top three auction houses suffered a significant decline in sales – for Christie’s – 25% compared to 2019, Sotheby’s -27%. In numbers, compared to $ 4.4 billion in 2019, 2020 generated sales of $ 0.9 billion.
The lack of live auctions has therefore generated a decrease in turnover, also due to the fact that many customers have preferred to give up selling important works while waiting for better times for their valorization.
While ten lots exceeded $ 50 million in 2019, this year only two lots exceeded this figure.
First place was the “Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus” (1981) by Francis Bacon, which reached $ 84.6 million on June 30 at a live auction at Sotheby’s.
After the Chinese classic masterpiece – which took second place on the podium – we find Roy Lichtenstein, with “Nude with Joyous Painting” (1994) sold for $ 46.2 million at Christie’s on 10 July.
David Hockney follows with “Nichols Canyon” (1980), which was changed hands for $ 41 million on December 7 by Phillips, which reached the highest total for a NY auction in the history of the auction house.
A sign of a lively market despite the complicated year, capable in some cases of surprising and exceeding expectations.
Francis Bacon, “Triptych Inspired by the Oresteia of Aeschylus”, 1981
Oil on canvas
Roy Lichtenstein, “Nude with Joyous Painting”, 1994
Oil on canvas
David Hockney, “Nichols Canyon”, 1980
Oil on canvas
Fortunately, there was no shortage of successes, such as the 8th edition of “Contemporary Curated” by Sotheby’s which on April 22 broke the record for the most profitable online auction ever totaling $ 6.4 million (estimate of 5, 75 million), thanks to a catalog full of masterpieces and Margherita Missoni as Guest Curator.
Online auctions have brought in an influx of new buyers – many millennials – and seen a 20% increase in profits over last year, apparently high, but lower than the revenues of a traditional auction – a way to stem the crisis – so much so that Sotheby’s fired around 200 employees in March (around 12% of its staff).
For the first time, the Turner Prize was divided into 10 scholarships of £ 10,000 each, awarded to as many artists: Liz Johnson Artur, Oreet Ashery, Shawanda Corbett, Jamie Crewe, Sean Edwards, Alberta Whittle, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Ima -Abasi Okon, Imran Perretta and the Arika collective.
The traditional collective exhibition dedicated to the finalists has not been organized but the winners of this edition may be re-elected in future editions of the award.
The winner of the 2020 Hugo Boss Prize is Deana Lawson, an American photographer whose research focuses on social issues and family intimacy in African American culture.
Emma Talbot wins the eighth Max Mara Art Prize for Women. The English artist explores inner landscapes full of thoughts, emotions and personal stories in delicate works painted on silk or other textile media and include sentences written by the artist or taken from other sources.
Canadian artist Kapwani Kiwanga wins the Prix Marcel Duchamp – an award born in France in 2000 – with “Flowers for Africa”, a project that reflects on the political and social history of African countries.
Returning to Italy, Palazzo Strozzi in Florence was able to adapt to the times and extend the long-awaited “Aria” exhibition by Tomás Saraceno, which was suspended a few weeks after its opening and which at the reopening received a great response from the public.
The highly anticipated monographic dedicated to Carla Accardi at the Museo del ‘900 in Milan, scheduled for the beginning of October, was also able to bring a sigh to culture, precisely in the window of openings between one lockdown and another. Over 70 works on display by Accardi – the first internationally recognized Italian abstract artist – will be open to visitors until the end of June 2021.
2020 was a special year and it is clear that it will take time to reach a new balance, but each period of crisis always brings new opportunities and allows us to see things in a new light. We still have a period of transition and many other changes ahead of us – certainly positive!
… The art does not stop!