April 16, 2021

2020: the year art (finally) opened up to the internet


Central gallery of the Prado Museum

Central gallery of the Prado Museum
EP

The museums, exhibition halls and art fairs have been emptied in 2020, a black year for the sector, but the crisis of the pandemic has served for many of these institutions to dust themselves off, stride forward in your digitization processes and art finally reaches the internet.

During the months of confinement, virtual exhibitions, guided tours, conferences were organized, museums on the web, contests and popular challenges. The most famous one filled the internet with recreations of classic paintings with what citizens had at home: few times has art generated so much interest on the internet.

Many of the museums were seen overwhelmed by attentionDuring the confinement, the Prado Museum had to hire more servers (from 2 to 10) to support visits to the web, and the Louvre multiplied by ten in one day (on March 19), its virtual visitors, from 40,000 to nearly 400,000.

With the uncertainty of the current situation, the sector is aware that the digitization process that drove the lockdown is here to stay, and museums, showrooms, art galleries, fairs and auction houses are rushing to find their identity on the web.

In recent months, the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum launched virtual guided tours for groups and has opened a space in the video game ‘Animal Crossing’; the Prado Museum made broadcasts on Instagram in which the users themselves could say which painting they wanted to see, and the Madrid galleries opened an uncertain season with a virtual replica, something that had never happened.

The art fairs – canceled in full – and the auctions have followed an identical path: the vast majority have replaced the extensive pavilions full of paintings, sculptures and installations with virtual exhibitions where it is possible to buy the works without stepping on the street.

It is true that the auction houses were among those that had entered the virtual world the most, but this year they have tried to go one step further. In June, Christie’s rehearsed a new auction model which he broadcast live and which took place in four cities at the same time (Hong Kong, Paris, London and New York).

Sales amounted to $ 420 million, including a $ 46 million Lichtenstein. The result was so good that it has repeated the experience on two other occasions and other houses have copied the system.

Sales on the internet have exploded. The Hiscox annual report -a benchmark in the sector- recognizes that the crisis of the covid-19 has forced the sector to “put the turbo“, and the transformation has been faster and better than expected. Collectors who buy art online have risen from 44% to 67% of all buyers, after a stagnant decade.

Art has traditionally been one of the most reluctant to join the digitization bandwagonBut now it’s a matter of survival

The industry is trying to save one of the worst years it can remember. The collapse of visitors in museums translates into millionaire losses: the Metropolitan of New York estimates that it will lose 150 million dollars this year; the Prado will stop earning about 20 million euros and, just in one month of closure (April), the Uffizi lost 10 million.

In the case of the big ones, recovering will be hard, but for the small museums without public funds the situation is worse and they fight a battle for their very existence. ICOM, the international museum association believes many may be forced to close.

The situation is so dramatic that it has generated something unusual in the art world: some centers such as the Baltimore Museum and the Brooklyn Museum have produced works to survive at auction, a measure not without controversy.

Every crisis is an opportunity and the art world is finding new opportunities right now. In the meantime, those who can go to a museum will find it almost empty, a historic opportunity to see these types of installations as likely never to be seen.

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