Going, going, gone: COVID-19 boosts online art auctions

New Delhi: There is never a bad time to buy art — or sell it — even if the economy is floundering and even when there is a pandemic.
The long held view that the art market remains steady in the rockiest of times has been borne out with the COVID-19 forced lockdown speeding up the shift to online sales and several auction houses reporting that business is as good if not better than earlier with more high value art being sold.
Leading global as well as Indian auction houses told PTI that the number of online auctions held in 2020 have gone up, indicating the increased popularity of bidding over the internet while keeping the significance of physical auctions unchanged.
According to London-headquartered Christie’s, the interest in important and unique works of art has historically never been a casualty in times of economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic that led to a slowdown across the world has been no different.
Collectors remain active even at the most unusual times as they are constantly seeking rare works, Christie’s India Managing Director Sonal Singh said.
The auction house held 115 auctions till August 20 this year. Of these, 100 were online and open to bidders across the world. The sell through rates are above 80 per cent, Singh told PTI.
The process of buying art has conventionally been an experiential one with collectors preferring to interact with a piece of art before investing up to lakhs of rupees for it. But they have quickly adapted as several auction houses across the globe branched out to sell art online, a process hastened by the COVID-19 pandemic that forced millions of people into their homes.
Art collector and curator Arjun Sawhney, for instance, is all for selling and purchasing art on the internet. Online auctions had already become effective and successful pre-pandemic. The pandemic, in fact, has accelerated the process of selling art through the net and that is a positive.
Online makes it easier to view the art and participate without geographical limitations. Plus if you are selling, the size of your audience increases exponentially in an online auction, the Delhi-based Sawhney told PTI.
Catering to collectors like Sawhney, Christie’s has sped up its digital first strategy over the last six months.
We have accelerated innovation and changed internal approaches, putting digital first the new strategy we had planned to roll out over the next three years has been sped up this year, Singh said.
While the economic slump has indeed resulted in reducing disposable incomes of buyers, art market intelligence and asset advisory firm Artery India said the Indian art market recorded a strong level of trade in the last six months despite a drop in overall spends compared to last year.
There has been a strong level of market activity, with several records having been established this year. Prices of artworks from the Modern and pre Modern section have achieved all-time highs over the past six months, said Arvind Vijaymohan, CEO Artery India.
From January to August 2020, the turnover of the Indian art market was Rs 301.4 crore compared to Rs 442.4 crore in 2019. This was achieved from the sale of 1,131 works, up from 1,503 works in 2019. Of these, 57 works sold for above Rs 1 crore. In 2019, 77 artworks sold for more than Rs 1 crore.
A total of 316 artists’ works (compared to 410 in 2019) were featured with new global price records for 77 (60 artists in 2019) amongst them. (PTI)

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