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What Art Auction Week Can Tell Us About the Art Industry – Comments From Olyvia Kwok

The world is a pretty uncertain place at the moment. Of course, the main culprit in this is the coronavirus, but other factors such as Brexit and the presidential elections in the US mean that we are seeing governments facing unprecedented challenges around the world. From a financial point of view, this is affecting everything from how small businesses are able – or unable – to operate to governments needing to inject huge amounts of cash into their economies.

It is certainly true to say that there is little that has been affected by these world events but it can be sometimes more challenging to see how. When it comes to the art world, however, it is easy to tell the impact of these unusual circumstances when you look at events like the recent Art Auction Week in London.

Uncertainties Around the World

Olyvia Kwok, a successful investor in art who is based in London but has a wealth of international clients, suggests that “The art market is like the stock market. It’s had a steady growth in the last 2-3 years, but now it’s reacting to all the recent uncertainties, i.e. COVID, Brexit, the US elections.”

This means that although times might be challenging at the moment, these challenges are short-lived and unlikely to last for too long either as these challenges go away, or indeed we learn to live with their repercussions.

Kwok believes that the main barrier at the moment is the election in the USA. “‘Overall, the market is fine – it has had a little pause, but as soon as America is OK to go – when the presential election is over – then the market will act accordingly.”

This is backed up through some of the results that we saw in Art Auction Week. Phillips, for example, in their ‘20th Century and Contemporary Art Day’ in London, sold over £8.5m worth of contemporary art, with much of it well exceeding the auctioneer’s estimates. This shows that there is still a healthy interest in buying works of art, helping to keep markets buoyant.

Raising Funds

Using art as an investment is a comparatively stable and reliable option when you are looking at financial investment options. It is an asset, rarely decreases in value, and can, of course, be wonderful to look at. With the economic unease that world events are presenting us with at the moment, however, we are seeing some clients cashing in some of their exquisite artwork to raise much-needed funds.

London’s ‘Post-War & Contemporary Art Evening Sale’ at Christie’s, for example, sold a total of £49,220,500. One of their most notable pieces being David Hockney’s Portrait of Sir David Webster, a portrait of the former Royal Opera House General Administrator, Sir David Webster. The painting achieved £12,865,000, helping to boost funds for the Royal Opera House who are amongst many arts establishments who have suffered economically in recent times.

COVID Restrictions

With the prevalence of COVID-19 around the world, we are seeing changes in the way that we all operate and the world of art is no different.

As highlighted by Kwok, “Phillips had an evening auction of what I call ‘short and sweet’, it finished quickly and all the art was fairly lower value; young, hip, trendy, pop culture, which I think is one of the biggest and fastest-growing markets right now, mostly due to the fact that a lot of people can’t physically come to London now. So, you can use Zoom or FaceTime…”

Phillips saw unprecedented high levels of online registrants, which is a testament to the popularity of art investment – and of 20th Century and contemporary art in particular. Of course, the travel restrictions that have been placed on many due to the pandemic also had a part to play.

The auction at Christie’s also made use of communications technology, not only allowing a few people to be present in the room but extending via telephone banks and their own live bidding television channel. They also made use of social media channels such as Facebook, YouTube, and WeChat – reaching around 190,000 people.

The past few months haven’t been easy for any industries, and this is likely to continue for the next few months, especially in the UK. However, the world of art is adapting well to the necessary changes within it, and, as evidence from Art Auction Week has shown, there is a healthy movement within it. Investment remains buoyant and looks like it will once again thrive as we get past the challenges that we are currently facing.

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