Art + popularity + commerce
Takashi Murakami has always been enthusiastic about combining the fine arts and “commercial”, as his mentor Andy Warhol used to say. Why separate what is part of the whole? Especially today, when art has no boundaries. Murakami’s art has permeated everywhere. Its production is not limited to sculptures, paintings, engravings, objects and print runs that can be found on the secondary market.
He began a series of collaborations: with the luxury brand Louis Vuitton; with streetwear brand Supreme; with singer/businessman Kanye West and California singer Billie Eilish (65.7 million followers on Instagram) while keeping the universe extremely cohesive. Murakami literally means “production machine”.
He is an artist and business manager, and manages a large team of assistants at his Kaikai Kiki Co. The best selling artist on the planet (5,512 lots since 2000), he is also one of the most accessible due to his many works.
The artistic/commercial dynamic created by Jeff Koons
Is not that far off that created by Murakami. Some of his work is commercial in nature to reach as many people as possible.
He adapted the mechanisms and infrastructures of industrial production to create both pretentious masterpieces and popular “products”. His Puppies and Balloon Dogs, produced in hundreds of copies, sell for prices ranging from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands.
Balloon Dog by Koons, Companion by KAWS, Mr. Dob by Murakami… the most popular Hi-Lite artists have invented recurring characters with an instantly recognizable childish and satirical aesthetic. In short, each of them managed to create their own trademark.
In the overall pattern of digital commerce, the art market is lagging behind. Only the shutdown due to the coronavirus crisis made it accelerate. Just before the spring of 2020, all “normal” activity was paralyzed by an unprecedented health crisis.
This is not the first crisis in the art market, the first was associated with the Gulf War in 1990-1993, when art prices experienced a sharp drop, the second, associated with subprime lending, hit the art market in the fall of 2008 after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and led to a significant drop in prices and a shortage of trade for auctioneers.
The art industry has never faced a crisis comparable to the COVID-19 crisis.
Museums, fairs, galleries, art centers and auction houses are required to comply with government recommendations to contain the spread of the virus by closing their doors to the public after March 11, 2020. The consequences have been disastrous for many galleries, some of which have seen their turnover plummet (sometimes by more than 90%). In the secondary market, the health emergency has led to the postponement or even the complete cancellation of physical sales.
But the crisis was also the moment when professionals began to think about how to continue the dialogue with their audience. Following the cancellation of the physical Art Basel event, Hong Kong launched an online replacement for its fair.
The initiative attracted an impressive 250,000 virtual visitors compared to less than 90,000 physical visitors at Art Basel Hong Kong in 2019.
Auction houses avoided the worst-case scenario of total art market collapse and urgently upgraded their websites to increase online sales, the only channel through which auction activity and contact with collectors were maintained.
At the start of the crisis, Sotheby’s got ahead of the competition by placing online sales at the center of its growth strategy. Its 2019 takeover by media and telecom mogul Patrick Drai appears to have fueled this development. After growing by 25% in 2019, Sotheby’s online sales have taken another step forward in 2020. Already in March, Sotheby’s sold 10 times more works than Christie’s.
In April, Sotheby’s raised $6.4 million, a record for online sales. More than half of the sold lots exceeded the estimate.
Despite a period of great uncertainty, buyers placed bids that far exceeded expectations. By summer, shopping habits had already changed, with 30 to 35% of Sotheby’s online sales participants being “new entrants”.