PAI Opinion: March On

Courtesy of TEFAF.

Welcome to March! March is a much-awaited month for those in the art industry. There are usually 20 fairs – if not more – and several spring auctions around the world with great pieces to collect. But that’s in a normal year.

In 2020, the industry has been rocked by cancellations and postponements due to the spread of coronavirus. Art Basel Hong Kong, Gallery Weekend Beijing and JingArt, also in Beijing, have all shut shop until next year.
About 1,700 have tested positive in Italy, and museums and galleries have closed across the country. And it has made art dealers start to question their decision to attend The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) this year – held in Maastricht and backed by AXA XL Insurance. Three exhibitors – Wildenstein & Co, Fergus McCaffrey and Galerie Monbrison – who planned to attend have already withdrawn from the fair. 

Despite its legacy status in the industry and the seven-day window in which to accumulate footfalls, some are concerned about reduced numbers this spring.
The effects are also spreading to auctions despite the arguably lower risk. Six of the top auction houses have rescheduled March Asian art auctions to the week of June 21st. Asia Week New York receives up to 20,000 attendees each year, but with Bonhams, Doyle’s, Christie’s and Sotheby’s no longer participating, how strong might the results be this year?
Most recently, Sotheby’s relocated its spring sales of Modern and Contemporary art from Hong Kong to New York. The auctioneer had a 92% sell-through rate and held a 63.3% market share in Asia last year, which will be difficult to match in the US.

However, the exhibition of works in Hong Kong, Jakarta and Taipei beforehand could help with telephone and online bidding. Sotheby’s told Private Art Investor that most bids at its sales were placed from outside the room.

With a total $4.5m – $6m in 2019 for online art sales, the Hiscox annual report estimated a 15% annual growth in this side of the business year-on-year. That was before coronavirus – meaning there is real potential for these to flourish. Although, with the Marron collection being sold privately, it is unlikely that 2020’s lots will match up to the record 550,000 fine art lots sold in 2019.

March might march on with a slight limp this year, but at least it is warmer than February.