Art in the time of Corona.

On the 31st of December, everyone was celebrating New Year’s Eve with their families, friends & loved ones, with a drink in their hands-all waiting to bring in the new year which was also the new decade. I too was waiting to pop open a bottle of champagne & drink to the future. Social media was abuzz with trending hashtags like #endofanera & #newdecade amongst a host of others. Little did we know that all our hopes & plans for the ‘new decade’ would literally come crumbling down & go to the pot! A silent & invisible enemy was lurking, waiting to unleash itself & cause havoc.

Three months into the ‘new decade’ the WHO declared that mankind was faced with a pandemic-the coronavirus or COVID-19. In literally a few days, domestic & international flights stopped operating, borders closed down, countries went on lockdown mode & everyone had to confine themselves to the safety of their homes in order to stay safe & stop the virus from spreading. Amongst the panic & fear, masks, sanitizers, face shields & social distancing had become the need for the hour & once again social media was buzzing with new trendy hashtags like #newnormal. This ‘new normal’ was to have a catastrophic effect & far-reaching consequences on all sectors of life-education, law, art, culture, the global economy to name a few. With stock markets crashing, companies laying off staff & global brands halting production & adapting to this precarious situation,everything had to move to a virtual platform.

The art world,which was always elitist & prided itself on its exclusivity had to grapple & devise a way in which it could move forward. With museums.galleries,auctions & art fairs shut or cancelled-which incurred huge losses,one had to come up with plans to overcome & navigate through the challenging days which lay ahead. Today amidst the coronavirus pandemic,as we live in lockdown,art continues to work as a repository of individual histories & human agency. As the global pandemic sends the world into a tailspin,art has provided succor to many. While it has not been a good year for the art world,although it could have been worse. As all important auctions & fairs like Asia  Week in New York had to be cancelled mid-way,sales for almost every kind & genre of art dropped by almost 50% for this year till date,from the same period in the previous year(2019). Total sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s & Philip’s fell to $2.9 billion in 2020 from $5.7 billion for the same period from last year. Yet on the bright side,the total value of online sales is up by nearly 500% over the same period-from $69 million in 2019 to $412.6 million in 2020.

This is the result of a massive shift online by all the major players in the art business. Auction houses,galleries,dealers,curators,art advisories have all set up online spaces & are successfully selling art online. Not only selling art,museums across borders like The Tate,The National Gallery of Modern Art,The National Gallery etc have hosted successful online shows bringing the masters to our living rooms. With the art world shifting to a virtual platform,the big question remains-is its the right time to invest in art? Or better still-just collect art for the love of it despite a tanking world economy?

With price drops,this offers the small investor or first time buyer a real opportunity to get started in collecting art which has proven to be the best & surest long-term alternative investments.That’s one way of looking at the advantage of online art buying in the pandemic.For the investor or buyer who is used to the buzz of the art world at auctions & fairs,but who didn’t have the time to fly to London,Paris,New York or Hong Kong or visit the fairs in Venice or Basel-where the real deals are made,the shift of art online has given people much greater access to the best values in art today. Plus it saves you the time of travelling & cost of upkeep in some fancy hotel in London or Paris.

These investments in art are made with great names-M.F.Husain,Jogen Chowdhury,Sunil Das,F.N.Souza,Paritosh Sen to the old masters like Gopal Ghose & Jamini Roy. Believe it or not,it is quite possible to buy & own an original work of art by Husain or a Jogen Chowdhury for five figure investments to sometimes even for four figures. Artists throughout their long careers have produced a lot of drawings,etchings & unfinished works.If you search hard enough,you’re bound to find something great & spectacular for that corner of the house you’ve been wanting to spruce up. Happy shopping!

  • Vinayak Pasricha.