Digital Transformation of the Art Market

In my guest commentary for Münchner Kunstherbst I was talking about the art market in time of digital change:

Media theorist Marshall McLuhan told us a good half-century ago, that ‘the medium is the message’. He thereby anticipated the way in which digital technologies would change our everyday lives. He knew that the mass public would gain ever more significance as a creative and interactive force, which strove, even then, for means of media forms that were more open, more dialogical, and more viral.

Jeremy Shaw, "Transcendental Capacity", 2013, Ioannis Christoforakos Collection
Jeremy Shaw, “Transcendental Capacity”, 2013, Ioannis Christoforakos Collection

The art market has always been the antithesis of transparency – based on access to the right networks and financial staying power. Is any of this going to change any time soon? I think it will. The question is: how can one remain successful in the face of rising competition? Because, while a small minority of large galleries expand and take on ever bigger multiple spaces, the multitude of small and medium galleries struggle for their market-share, and indeed, their survival – despite the art calendar being overflowing and the public showing more interest than ever.

The most important stage for today’s art market is the fairs. They attract the art-loving visitor like a magnet. But the competition isn’t sleeping here either. The better the gallery selection, the more attractive the associated program and the more prominent the public – then the higher will be the visitor numbers and the chances of success. The desire to buy is inflated through the desire to ‘see and be seen’, through the gallery talks and fawning dinner invitations. The array of events is vast, yet time remains limited. The art world responds en masse to the most important dates in Maastricht, Basel, London, Paris, New York, or Hong Kong.

In short: the market has become global and fast moving. The forms that the art market has taken to date therefore need to be reevaluated. The growth in the online sector and the significance of the adolescent generation are underestimated. They are quicker in their analysis of art, considerably more interactive and aware of their role as influencers of opinion. This generation is responsibility-oriented and understands how to profit from the sharing culture of the 21st Century. Or do your children still own their own cars?

Galleries too, should consider more the opportunities offered by the cultural practice of ‘sharing’ and better utilize eventual synergies. Sensible alliances could reduce fixed costs and increase scope and reach. The extent to which the art world will change still further is unimaginable for many. What is certain, is that it will be more digital, that artists will act ever more independently, and that the trend to ‘click-and-buy’ will continue to grow unabated.