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How online art fairs are changing the art market

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

Not surprisingly it is art fairs that have been the most impacted by Covid-19 and the social distancing measures that have been put in place to limit the spread of the virus. For the African Art Market, the cancellation of the 1:54 New York art fair was the first blow – this art fair feeds off the activity in New York during the Frieze fair that takes place at the same time. It is particularly hard to ‘feed’ off foot-traffic virtually, so despite the fact the exhibitors were able to advertise their art on Artsy – they could not rely on collectors or curators who may have ‘spilled-in’, having exhausted their time at Frieze. Is the spill-over that guaranteed in reality?

In an interview conducted for my masterclass on the Future of the African Art ecosystem, Touria El Glaoui, suggested that 1:54 New York was perhaps too expensive to continue doing and that enjoying a presence (in western art capitals) during these art fair frenzies need not be in the form of an art fair.

Art fairs might reconfigure in physical form in time, but for now, the online art fair has been the new model. Last week South African Latitudes fair – a newcomer, having only one edition under their belt - launched their online platform months ahead of what would have been a physical fair in September. Turbine fair, another Joburg-based art fair that takes place in July announced their online edition, as did the FNB Art Joburg. Given the latter was dominated by South African galleries – top tier ones – one wonders how they will retain the air of exclusivity in the virtual realm.