2022 kicked off slowly in the art world, with most eyes focused on events in Ukraine and speculation over impending war, as well as signs of yet more waves of Covid; some of the first arts news of the year was of which events would not be taking place. Of course, NFT art continued to be talked about, though increasingly for the wrong reasons, as crypto markets continue to look like prices will drop further, so NFT sales have continued to wane, and more than a few people are asking themselves what exactly they spent all that money on.
NFTs from established digital artists are still selling and gaining some value, whilst the emerging NFT club concepts have a handful of still successful projects, but a lot of the NFT boom is increasingly looking more like a bubble. Many of the headlines are increasingly focusing on the inadequacies of NFT art; collections stolen through hacking, morally questionable subjects, and identities of ‘secret’ buyers revealed in the press, rather than price tags running into the tens of millions of dollars.
The traditional art market has barely started catching up with it all; a group of Italian art museums had just announced NFT editions of original artworks by Leonardo, Caravaggio, and Modigliani. Some big names have appeared in the real life auction markets also; a painting by Botticelli sold for $45m, a Van Gogh piece for £10m, and a portrait by Rubens fetched $3.4m, another Van Gogh and artworks by Bacon, Warhol, Richter, and Giacometti all going under the hammer in quarter two, suggesting art sales are re-aligning themselves back towards conventional, real world, value.
Art Basel report positive arts news that the global market has bounced back from Covid
And it isn’t just amongst old masters and big names, with Art Basel and UBS putting out a report that things were back to pre-pandemic levels, but only when taken on a worldwide basis, things were uneven in individual territories. The Asian market is booming, whilst the UK market is still declining with Brexit exacerbating things.
Another sign of things possibly heading back to normal was the resumption of the fakes and frauds market, something which has been largely exclusive to NFTs over the last couple of years, but of course most things that can happen to NFTs, also happen to original artworks. A dealer was arrested for selling looted antiquities to The Met and The Louvre, more antiquities were removed from a Christie’s auction due to ties with illicit art dealers, whilst the dealer association Cinoa complained that it was unfair to link the industry to organised crime.
Of course the biggest news of the year was a new war beginning as Russia invaded Ukraine after months of build up and speculation. Numerous Russian art collectors were quickly targeted by the sanctions imposed in various countries, and arts organisations including Russian owned auctioneers Phillips (who also donated almost $6m to the Ukrainian Red Cross) issued statements in support of Ukraine and an immediate end to hostilities.
All eyes turn to Ukraine as war begins in Europe again
Support from the art world, much like everywhere else, was rapid; Ukrainian flags and colours were on show from many at the Art Dubai fair, and the organisers promised 25% of profits would be donated to Ukrainian refugees. Several auction houses and art galleries held sales to raise money, whilst auctions of Russian art were cancelled and art exports to Russia were banned.
The first arts news of work lost to the war have emerged as well, around twenty original artworks by celebrated Ukrainian painter Maria Prymachenko, a favourite of Picasso, were lost to a fire during the Russian invasion at the Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, with a local man managing to rescue around ten pieces from the burning building.
With hopes for the war ending quickly beginning to fade, Europe finds itself in uncertain times for the first time in decades, and a huge number of people find themselves refugees in other countries. Whilst the art world’s response so far has been one of supporting aid, it will have an important role to play telling some of these stories, and documenting some of these experiences in the years to come.