Bringing us up to halfway through the year and the world of art is settling into something more familiar looking from pre-Pandemic times. In the latest art news collectors are spending large sums on emerging and great artists at auction, and a new wave of art gallery related protests has emerged from the world of environmental campaigning. But first up, the NFT market which hogged so many headlines and speculative collections through Coronavirus.
Following the general trend of cryptocurrency markets and NFTs this year, it continues to look like a downturn. Total sales for the year are looking to surpass 2021, but monthly total sales have been declining since the start of the year, so a lot of those sales were at the tail end of the NFT art boom. There is currently a 20% decline in NFT sales volume month by month, and as the wider economic scene continues to look bleak, investors are looking for safer markets.
Whilst the total NFT market, art and gaming sectors have all declined, social NFT projects like the Bored Ape Yacht Club are still holding out, with a modest rise in value of around 5% in the first half of the year, though the value here seems to be placed in the club membership rather than the art itself. Doomsayers, of course, insist NFTs never had value and this is just the end of the bubble, and whilst the technology has multiple utilities, it’s role as a medium of art itself will certainly be tested in the coming economic climate.
Traditional art auctions are seeing a rash of record sales prices
The NFT art market stands in stark contrast to the conventional art auction world. After Art Basel’s first quarter statement that global art sales were back to pre-Pandemic levels, things shifted into overdrive in the second quarter, with a slew of vast sums paid for great pieces by well known artists, and record sums paid on many emerging artists’ work. May saw Andy Warhol’s silkscreen art print Sage Blue Shot Marilyn selling for a phenomenal $195m, almost doubling the highest price ever paid for an American artist, and becoming the most valuable 20th Century artwork ever sold.
A week later an original print of Man Ray’s Le Violin d’Ingres raised $12.4m at auction, and became the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction. Then in June Basquiat’s Untitled (Devil) sold for $85m; a profitable trade by the seller who bought it for $57m just six years ago. The same auction saw a record $10m price paid for a Kusama piece, and numerous emerging female contemporary artists also landed record prices.
Art Basel’s advisors commented that their latest art news was that the market had gone haywire, with collectors wanting to get hold of the very best examples of an artist’s work, and being prepared to pay a lot for it, whilst lesser paintings by the same artists are often hard to sell. Interest in emerging artists is also strong; buyers have been sat at home with nothing to buy for the last two years of Covid so part of this boost in prices is probably in part a reaction to that. It may even be that some of the collectors who got involved in the declining NFT market are looking to get into the real art market, especially as other investment opportunities are all downturning.
Protests return to the art gallery, but not from the world of arts
Protest in art is a long tradition, and we last saw it come to the fore in protests against statues celebrating slavers, this year we’re seeing a very different trend. In May a man who had disguised himself as an elderly woman in a wheelchair attempted to smear da Vinci’s Mona Lisa with cake, which he ultimately smeared on the protective glass in front of the painting. The man was arrested and placed in psychiatric care, claiming to have been engaged in a climate protest.
Perhaps inspired by this story, or simply by case of parallel evolutions of thought, the Just Stop Oil environmental campaign group in the UK put together a plan. At the start of July two protestors glued themselves to the frame of Constable’s Hay Wain at the National Gallery in London, after attaching a modified version of the painting over the original, depicting an apocalyptic future version of it. Attracting plenty of publicity for the stunt, it seems likely that we may see more of this as environmental groups in the UK gear up over the climate crisis.
More of the latest art news in early October.