2021 Wrapped: Digital Disruptions, Young Collectors, And A Dominating Asia—Five Trends That Defined The Art World This Year
Kingship, the first-ever metaverse band consisting of NFT characters from Bored Ape Yacht Club. Image courtesy of Universal Music Group and Bored Ape Yacht Club.
Installation view of “Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience”. Photo by Eric Spiller, Image courtesy of Culturespaces.
Amalia Dayan, Dominique Lévy, Brett Gorvy, and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn. Photo by Caroline Tompkins. Image courtesy of LGDR.
A rendering of UOVO facility after its acquisition of Museo Vault in Miami. Image courtesy of UOVO.
Soethby’s virtual gallery in Decentraland’s metaverse. Image courtesy of Decentraland.
Frieze London’s exhibition space at No.9 Cork Street. Image courtesy of Matheson Whiteley and Frieze.
(Left) Justin Sun, founder of Tron and CEO of BitTorrent, image courtesy of Jiang Xin and Visual China Group via Getty Images; (right) Alberto Giacometti’s Le Nez (1947), which Sun purchased for US$78.4 million at Sotheby’s sale of the Macklowe Collection in New York, image courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Still image of Beeple’s animation CROSSROAD – Biden Win (2020), sold for US$6.6 million on Nifty Gateway in February 2021. Image courtesy of the artist and G○C△ – Gallery of Crypto Art.
Rendered image of Christie’s new headquarters in Hong Kong, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
The new Lehmann Maupin space in Seoul. Image courtesy of Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.
In addition to the art world’s technological awakening, this neither-here-nor-there year witnessed the art market’s ongoing consolidation, along with its “blobification”—as well as a generational shift amongst dealers and collectors from Asia to America.
TEXT: CoBo Editorial
IMAGES: Courtey of various
As another year draws to a close, we tend to reflect on the milestones that transpired over the past 12 months. With 2021, one very specific response comes to mind. In the words of a Hollywood billboard viaactor Jeremy Strong, known for playing the infamous Kendall Roy from Succession, “What the shrek just happened?”
The second year of an ongoing pandemic was threaded through with accelerated shifts, digital disruptions and alienation. The art world was not spared, especially in terms of the intensity and speed of development (or rather, dysfunction) with market appetites and technology—remember Clubhouse?
Basically, if 2020 was a resounding kick into the 21st century, reminding the art world that we are in the future, 2021 is a not-so-gentle teacher’s note that the future is a largely unknown and uncertain terrain, which we need to figure out collectively as communities, societies, and a civilisation.
For now, let’s look at the various trends that shaped the art world in 2021, tongue firmly in cheek, and keen-eyed gaze on the unfolding future.
Art World Wakes Up To Technology. For Real.
Forget OVRs. The tech-friendly initiatives of the first pandemic year seem practically quaint compared to the digital forays by the art world this year. The most significant example being NFTs, which drew attention from traditional institutions such as the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Christie’s, while simultaneously becoming a focal point of the largely divisive discourse regarding Web 3.0. aka the Metaverse, depending on your position in this debate.
But the current technological awakening goes beyond the rise of crypto and a company, which offers fractionalised selling of art, being valued at more than US$1 billion. This year also saw an increasing use of the experiential web, such as augmented and virtual reality, in art fairs, exhibitions and more, which audiences did not seem to mind, taking to immersive Van Gogh exhibitions like Emily took to Paris.
Let’s Get Merged!
In 2021, the art world decided to take every love song to heart and dive into mergers and acquisitions, with the hopes a consolidated entity would be more lucrative during times of upheaval. Essentially what most single millennials living with four flat mates or in their parents’ basements are thinking right now.
While one of 2020’s biggest art world headlines was veteran art dealer Gavin Brown closing his outfit and joining Gladstone, 2021 had to take it to a whole other level in the blue-chip gallery scene, with dealers Lévy Gorvy, Salon 94, and Amalia Dayan consolidating to form LGDR, a one-stop shop organising exhibitions and offering strategic services.
Other consolidation moves this year included the pandemic-impacted arts storage and logistics services, with New York-based Crozier buying over London’s Martinspeed, while UOVO, Crozier’s outer-borough rival, acquired Miami’s Museo Vault. Even online auction platforms were not unscathed, with LiveAuctioneers acquired by Auction Technology Group and social impact auction platform Greenhouse Auctions bought over by Artsy.
Art Market Goes Full Christian Grey (The Book Version)
While this trend has been burgeoning for a while now, the art market in 2021 seemed to ignore every good therapist’s advice and forgo its boundaries, specifically that between galleries, auction houses and art fairs. Artnet called it “blobification” but at this point it’s more fifty shades of grey.
Various former auction house veterans launched a private dealing app, an online charity auction platform, a global art advisory service and a fractionalised art selling company. Auction house Phillips opened an art advisory branch focusing on the primary market. London’s 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair held a pop-up on the first floor of Christie’s in Paris. Frieze London opened a space for year-round pop-up shows.
Even as traditional auction houses directly consigned digital artists during the NFT boom, galleries such as König Galerie set up shop on popular blockchain platforms like Decentraland. The Berlin gallery also appointed an auctions expert to oversee its in-house art fair which launched last year.
Millennials And Gen Z Having Their Day In The Sun
The skyrocketing number of uber wealthy, well-connected, yacht-hopping brands clad collectors in their 20s to 40s—mainly due to the financial markets pandemic bubble—finally got the full attention of the art world and vice versa.
Following their strong performance during the first pandemic year, millennial collectors doubled down in 2021, showing up at art fairs and auctions, making their deep pockets known with big ticket purchases. Meanwhile, Gen Z investors made a name for themselves by pushing up the market value of emerging artists, solely from their online bidding and purchases, giving rise to a new profit-focused generation of buyers speculating on art, known as the “art bros”.
At the same time, a slew of departures and appointments at major auction houses indicate a generational shift taking place within the industry, possibly in response to the digitally disrupted art market and the growing number of young collectors.
It is worth pointing out that the aforementioned rise of young collectors was especially potent in Asia this year, bolstering the regional art scene in myriad ways. This year also saw a series of major developments lined up for Asia in the upcoming years, from Frieze launching an inaugural Asia edition in Seoul in November 2022 to Christie’s expanded Asia headquarters opening in Hong Kong in 2024.
Seoul, specifically, witnessed an influx of international galleries opening outposts in the city from April to October this year, namely König Galerie, Gladstone Gallery and Thaddaeus Ropac. This is in addition to a slew of homegrown MNCs opening private museums in the country. Meanwhile, Art Basel announced partnerships with the inaugural Art Week Tokyo 2021 and boutique Singapore art fair S.E.A. Focus 2022. Lehmann Maupin also launched a pop-up in Taiwan.