The new art collector who’s happy to spend millions online

“The door has been opened to the future of auctions,” Sotheby’s Grégoire Billault said after an art sale broadcast live around the world broke 14 new records.

This door appears to have been knocked off its hinges by the end of the year. With an eye-catching schedule of high profile art fairs and auctions slated for the coming months, there is a real chance that more records will fall.

Art Basel’s online screening rooms, “OVR: 2020”, open their virtual doors today, presenting 600 works in 100 galleries in 28 countries.

Frieze London and Frieze Masters will take place from October 8 to 11, and on October 21, Sotheby’s will broadcast a live auction in Paris for the first time and combine it with a concurrent event in London.

The joint sale will feature a painting by abstract artist Bridget Riley, with an estimated selling price of $ 7-9.6 million and a Banksy (pictured above) of $ 3.8-6.4 million dollars. The Banksy, Show me the Monet, is the tribute of the contemporary British artist to the legendary painting by Claude Monet of a Japanese bridge in a garden in Giverny. First exhibited in 2005, it playfully stages waste caught by flies in the famous water lily pond, in what has been interpreted as a critique of environmental destruction and disposable consumerism.

A Banksy print sale last week totaled $ 2.7 million, nearly five times the estimate, with each lot selling for prices above the highest estimate.

Art goes digital

The art world quickly adapted to the challenges of Covid-19, and wealthy collectors have proven that not being able to physically see a piece would not deter them from bidding.

That unprecedented night of June 30 which, according to Sotheby’s Billault, marked the true arrival of online auctions saw a world record bid of $ 73.1 million for a masterpiece by Francis Bacon. The painting, a triptych inspired by the Greek playwright Aeschylus Oresty, was eventually sold to a Chinese bidder for $ 84.6 million.

The evening had already seen the record paid online for a work of art smashed twice. Joan Mitchell’s Garden Party sold for $ 7.9 million, to be surpassed by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Head), which rose to $ 15.2 million. That figure was 10 times the previous record paid online, but the size of the bacon piece auction eclipsed it, even though it turned out to be unsuccessful.

Highlighting the magnitude of the change, online art sales have stubbornly remained for several years around 10% of the total art market, even as digital has grown to dominate auctions in many. other areas. A UBS and Art Basel survey this month estimates that 37% of total first-half sales were made online.

This broadly aligns with Sotheby’s experience, with the company saying its online sales, at $ 326 million so far in 2020, are already four times the $ 80 million seen in 2019.

Maria de Peverelli, executive chairman of Stonehage Fleming Art Management, which advises high net worth clients on their art collections, said clients have obviously been pressured into buying online due to the coronavirus. However, she cautions against viewing the online move as transparent, noting that there are caveats.

“Galleries and auction houses have improved and expanded their online presence, trying to make it fun and easy. Online auctions, in most cases, also give you more time to think about because they last a few days, ”she said.

“Most collectors also bought from sources they trusted, with all the positives and negatives of that, and that they knew before. When thinking about the physicality of a work of art and its “presence”, one should not underestimate the fact that most of the collectors who buy important (expensive) works of art online buy works of art. artists they already know.

Perhaps the UBS / Art Basel survey of wealthy art collectors revealed that younger generations were more comfortable buying online. Almost a fifth, 17%, of Millennials said they spent more than $ 1 million on art this year, compared to just 4% of baby boomers.

This trend was also reflected at Sotheby’s, which said nearly a third of its online shoppers were under 40 this year. The auction house pointed out that 40% of buyers are new to the business, 20% of which are from Asia.

Christl Novakovic, CEO and Head of Wealth Management at UBS Europe, believes the move online has attracted a cohort of new affluent collectors, who value price transparency and the anonymity of internet auctions.

“Strengthening this digital community globally can be essential for the health of the market in the future,” she said.

Know what you are buying

Bigger auction houses and galleries now offer everything from higher magnification, so you can inspect a work of art more closely, to virtual reality apps that will let you see what it looks like in your house. But nothing can really replace doing your homework. Remember that the art world is not regulated.

De Peverelli said most of the due diligence had not changed and could be done remotely anyway. Buyers should consider the authenticity, condition and provenance of the coin. How does the quality of this particular work of art compare to the rest of the artist’s works and at what price were they sold.

“When it comes to state, the world adapts to virtual state reports. This is what every museum does today, when an exhibition opens or closes, due to different travel regulations and restrictions in the countries of both lenders and borrowers. This system actually allows more people to be “present” and ask questions, as different experts can “assist” wherever they are, “she said.

“The price of what you buy and the source it comes from obviously has an impact on whether you should try to see (through a trusted agent or virtually) ‘article. “

With lockdowns extended in many countries amid fears of a second wave of Covid-19, online auctions will remain at the center of the art world for the foreseeable future.

Norma D. Ross