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Is the role of the art dealer after the pandemic era still relevant?

The report titled ‘’The Resilience in the Dealer Sector, A Mid-Year Review’’ by Art Basel and UBS, provides a sharpen view on how the dealers sector has coped with the pandemic crisis from the first half of the 2021.

Starting from a scenario that has seen in the last two years the increase of art created and sold entirely online, it is the right time to reflect on the nowadays role of the art dealer, and the value that this figure can add in a field completely changed by the Covid-19, with a present where art is always more sold in a space that is no longer physical like that of an art gallery or an art fair.

Thanks to the digital revolution, that took place following the pandemic crisis starting from 2020 and consolidated in 2021, multiple factors such as the production of works of art and the price have changed, and with them new strategies for marketing artworks online have born. This new, entirely digital revolution has had a deeply impact on art market infrastructures: art fairs and art galleries equipped themselves with online platforms where is it now possible for a collector to admire the works of art exhibited directly at home.

With the development of new NFT platforms, the issue of the democratization of art has returned, seeing in these platforms the opportunity to bridge the gap and finally link the world of collectors and galleries with a more generic audience.

With this new process called ''platformization'', the importance of the art dealer could appear irremediably reduced, because online platforms allow a more direct contact between the artist and the collector.

Lu Yang's artworks exhibited by the Gallery Société at Art Basel in Hong Kong, 2019.

© Art Basel.

But despite what could appear to be a threat to the art dealer business, according to the Art Basel's report, that tries to give an answer on whether this figure has managed to resist the economic crisis or not, emerges that art dealers do not feel threatened by the NFTs irruence in the art market: the increased interest on the digital art, has captured the attention of many of them.

When it was asked a point of view on online NFTs platforms, the majority of dealers answered that the sales of art online via NFT marketplaces would continue to increase

in the next year, but also most of the interviewees were unsure about how sales on these platforms would be in the next future, still reflecting a continuing uncertainty regarding the impact on their businesses.

In the first half of 2021, the report shows that digital art accounted 12% of purchases in the art market: when asked to collectors what type of art they were interested in buying in the next year, 48% of them answered that they were interested in buying digital art.

Another interesting dynamic highlighted by the report shows that in the 2021, online sales accounted 37% of art dealer's revenues, including the online viewing rooms of art fairs. Compared to pre-pandemic era, the report confirms that sales have doubled.

But, despite the trend of the online platforms, dealers with galleries still remain the most commonly used sales channels: 82% of the interviewed collectors bought through a dealer in the first half of 2021. Asked on their business future, art dealers seem to be optimistic: 91% of them answered that their sales will increase in the next year, but a small percentage, the 9% expect a decline on sales in the next future.

In the sector of the art market, the figure of the art dealer is still crucial: the deep knowledge of the art market and its dynamics by this figure allows to reduce to minimum the risks associated to the purchase of art goods for collectors, also if they are expert or newbies in the field.

Despite the Covid-19 pandemic era has severely imposed a brake on the work of this figure, limiting his natural predisposition to create relationships between artists and collectors, within two years of post-poned events and online art fairs, the need to entertain live relationships is urgent again, and that only can be made by art dealers: with their precious ability to connect and communicate in person, they are the key figure that can restore again the art world as we knew it, a place where the exchange of knowledge contributes to the cultural advancement of the entire society.

- Lucia Sabino -


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