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Arts news from Q3 2022

The art world continued to be defined by change over the third quarter; recent years have seen huge change of all kinds tied to Covid, cryptocurrency, war in Ukraine, and now widespread economic woes, however even as things change, they stay much the same. Here’s the latest arts news from 2022.

There is of course plenty of discussion about the health of the market and what all these other worldwide events mean to it, and the information and signals are very contradictory; no great change after the unexpected boom in NFT sales through the middle of a pandemic. Similarly, London auction houses are complaining about a dearth of good material on the market to sell, just as news hits that Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is selling his art collection including pieces by Cezanne and Jasper Johns; the collection is expected to break £1 billion in sales, a new record.

Similarly again, numerous auction houses are stating that the market is booming, with Christie’s making $4.1 billion in sales in the first half of the year, and confidently stating nothing was going to change quickly. Other market watchers are less certain, noticing an emerging trend of major pieces selling at major auction houses for much less than the expected price. As always, we will have to wait and see how the looming recession bites.

NFT art begins to merge with the mainstream market

As crypto prices have remained stagnant and NFTs have faded from wider public interest and arts news, people have been digging through the ashes to see what may still be useful. Auction house Christie’s have decided to push ahead with plans to establish it’s own NFT platform for selling works of art on the blockchain, perhaps hoping that their brand can add some weight to a flagging format. Meanwhile, leading NFT platforms like SuperRare and Quantum Art are opening physical gallery spaces to try and enhance their sales; everyone’s looking for more sales opportunities and things gradually blend together.

Others are picking out some of the interesting features of NFTs and looking for ways to bring them into the conventional art world without the NFTs. Canadian lawmakers are looking at bringing a resale right into law for artists, so the original artists receives a percentage of every future sale of their work between collectors, a fundamental feature of NFTs, and expected to bring huge benefit for First Nations artists in particular.

Sotheby’s are following the theme, adding sales to their catalogues of new work direct from the artist’s studio, and adding the functionality for 15% to be donated to a charity of the artist’s choice. Various parts of this mirror NFTs, though feel a little pointless; it’s simple enough for artists to donate part of their sales to a charity, and there are already plenty of dealers and galleries selling new work into the market, but Sotheby’s framing of the announcement certainly evokes NFT benefits.

A new wave of art related activism, this time for the environment

The last time activism and protest turned significantly towards the art world was relating to race and history, as protestors tore down a range of statues celebrating slavers, now, as the world faces crises on multiple fronts, it is environmental protestors making a stand, but less destructively.

In July, Just Stop Oil protestors glued themselves to the frame of John Constable’s painting The Hay Wain, after hanging their own post-apocalyptic version of the painting over the original. Extinction Rebellion have also used the tactic; two of their activists glued themselves to Picasso’s Massacre in Korea painting, Italian group Last Generation glued themselves to Botticelli’s Primavera, and there are various others. In all cases it appears no damage came to the painting; usually the frame, or protective perspex over the painting, is what is glued, and no one is blaming oil painting for the environmental crisis; this is all about catching media attention.

The protests are small and simple, often only needing a few people to organise, they don’t really inconvenience anyone, but they make a good press story, and of course there’s always cameras there when it happens to get the story out. Art and activism has always tied together primarily with an aim of building awareness, and even long after these paintings were created they can still have a role to play; whether the wider public agrees we may find out in the next quarterly arts news update.