PAI Opinion: The world’s art market navigates choppier waters

Paul Signac's At Flushing a Flessingue (1895). Courtesy of Artsy.

The world’s art market is navigating choppier waters. Lights are flickering. And there is the sound of creaking from all quarters. It feels like a film. Then a ding on someone’s phone, announcing yet another sale or fair has been cancelled. This is life in the time of coronavirus.

One can no longer predict what is about to happen, because new developments come every few hours. The only thing that seems certain is that art sales are slowing by the day.

Last week, prestigious show The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) concluded four days ahead of schedule because an Italian exhibitor tested positive upon return to his country. Elbow bumps nicknamed “TEFAF taps” might have become a trendy way to replace handshakes, but attendance numbers over the crucial first days – when buying is at its busiest – were significantly lower this year.

Asia Week New York has also seen several dealers and exhibitors shorten their run this week.

Elsewhere, Christie’s was the first major auction house to close most of its locations in response to the crisis. 26 offices across Europe, the US and the Middle East are now closed.

15 sales scheduled to take place in New York and Paris – during March and April – were also postponed until further notice. Amongst other things, it means that a part of the Jane and Kito de Boer collection, worth $5m, will also not be coming to market any time soon. 

With its London, Amsterdam and Geneva offices still running for now, the only Christie’s sales left this month are in London this week. However, it is difficult to imagine many braving crowded spaces for a top lot. Phillips will also not be hosting any sales across the world until mid-May. 

With both sectors likely to take a hit until at least June, private and online sales might be the way to go for now. And no matter how much water the ship takes on, it’s important to remember we’re all in it together.