art basel art market special: fair experiences for future growth

September 28, 2021

After having sorted out on-site experiences of a recent 6-day visit at Art Basel, the world’s largest contemporary art fair in Switzerland, a clearer picture emerges. Based on own observations and discussions with gallerists, art advisors, and, of course, art collectors, the feedback is remarkable.

Art Basel
From Art Basel to an Outlook for the Art Market

Art Basel survived the pandemic in a decent shape with 272 premier galleries from 33 countries presenting. But there are also reasonable doubts whether the current art fair model is a model that is future-proof enough, since the number of visitors (60.000) dropped by around 35% compared to the last fair in Basel in 2019.

The global art market has performed well during the last decade. Since 2018, global sales have been slowing down, especially in 2020 during the pandemic (-22%). Research indicates a correlation between the art market and the stock market, with the stock market being slightly ahead of the art market. As we are currently seeing sideways movements on the stock market due to emerging inflation- and interest rates risks, the mid-term outlook for the art market is likely to be relatively flat as well.

Even though galleries reported solid sales, euphoria as seen in the years before 2020 was missing. Instead, a certain kind of reluctance on both the buyer and the seller side was widely noticeable. Lower visitor numbers cannot be argued only with missing clients from the USA and Asia. Also, those who are still afraid of the pandemic explain only parts of the truth as the fair management set up a fantastic security concept. In addition, a new factor needs to be considered wisely: Behavior changes of fair visitors in general and buying behavior changes of the art buyer. Often misinterpreted as an outcome of the pandemic, these changes have a lot to do with long term social trends and were simply accelerated during the pandemic.

Art Basel
Important Challenges Ahead

Now, it is about time to take the behavior changes of the art buyer seriously. Therefore, the art ecosystem has now to do its homework. And the changes we have seen are not only about digitalization, digitization or NFTs. To meet the needs of current and future buyers, a new thinking is required that is not common practice in the art industry yet. It is about rediscovering the customer in all phases of a client relationship and about maximizing the customer’s value along this relationship.

This approach is the only recipe that will help to protect the status quo of the industry. There are prominent examples of other industries that discovered the changing buyer behavior too late (e.g. automotive industry including its largest fair @IAA) with the effect that former major players have dramatically become less important. Also in the art market, new players and future competitors are gaining strength at a very fast pace, being backed up by lower fix costs and digital business models, serving the customer in a more holistic, better and faster way.

Art Basel
Call to Action

Do not get me wrong: I do not see the art market becoming a purely digital marketplace replacing art fairs and traditional gallery work. But I see a huge demand for curating better experiences for clients which will help to protect current business models and client relationships. Experiences that put the value for clients in the center stage and use technology wisely. This is the order of the day.

It’s time to shape the art market. Jointly!

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