Are Online Art Sales The Future?

As a result of the pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic, the global art market is now more innovative, more digital, and consequently more accessible to more people. Many of the world’s leading art fairs and galleries turned to online sales to keep their sales buoyant and online viewing rooms have quickly become the norm over the past year.

In the first half of 2020 the share of online sales rose from 10% of total sales in 2019 to 37% in the first half of 2020. According to the Hiscox Online Art Trade Report 2020, online sales of art and collectibles totalled $4.82bn last year. As we move deeper into 2021 and ambitious vaccination programs boost hopes of increased freedoms, many in the art market are wondering exactly how attractive online sales will prove once the world opens up again.

Running alongside this strong desire to return to in person viewing, fairs and galleries will no doubt continue to view the booming online space as a great opportunity to boost their sales. One key upside of the pandemic is that new routes to market have emerged and become mainstream, digital sales trends have accelerated, and increasingly quantities of high quality work is now accessible to a larger and more diverse global market.

In a virtual event run by Christie’s, which began in Hong Kong, before moving to Paris, London, and finally New York, Christie’s reported that globally over 80,000 people signed in to view the four hour-long sale. In total the event realized an impressive $411m from buyers across the world. New world-record prices were set for the works of seven artists, including Roy Lichtenstein, Brice Marden, Wayne Thiebaud and Ruth Asawa. Successes like these prove that collectors are willing to spend large sums online and this trend is likely to endure even as the threat of Covid-19 retreats.

HNW Collectors Remain Engaged

Although the COVID-19 pandemic distracted many HNW collectors from their collections in the early months of 2020, the ArtBasel survey indicated that most had remained active in the market. An impressive 92% of those surveyed reported purchasing a work of art in the first six months of 2021.

When asked if the pandemic had affected their interest in collecting art 59% reported that the pandemic had actually increased their interest in collecting with 31% saying their interest had significantly increased. This is an important litmus test for galleries and fairs planning online sales, proving that HNW collectors have not been put off purchasing work online despite the testing circumstances.

While online sales will no doubt lose some ground once art fairs resume and galleries return to normality, the radical changes imposed by the Covid-19 will leave a deep mark on the art market. Online viewings and sales have made the market more open and accessible than ever before, and this welcome breath of fresh air is exactly what the art world needs to thrive as we slowly emerge into a post-pandemic world.