I really enjoy asking random people if they go to museums or art galleries on a daily basis. Wait, what? Do art galleries still exist? The answer is often negative, most people find it boring. As a visual artist and a recent graduate in cultural management, perhaps I should be shocked by these answers. Not really. Here’s the problem: while consumers demand evolved, the art market offer has been stagnant for the past 50 years.
Contemporary art serves the elite
Some people will proudly tell you that the contemporary art market is booming, but that's partly true. And only for a very small part of the market, which is run by powerful art collectors and concentrates around a few “star artists.”
On the one hand, the offer is huge and reserved for an elite. According to Artprice (2015), 68% of global auction revenue from contemporary art (1.2 billion dollars) is generated by 100 artists, and 35% by just 10 artists. In reality, the majority of artists have very low visibility and extremely low incomes. The problem is that the art market is still very opaque and it is difficult for people to know the real value of products. Thus, it is most likely that the demand will concentrate on the production of one “star artist”, as all of the buyers will imitate the choices of the first collectors.
On the other hand, the demand for purchasing artworks is rather weak. To give you an idea, the average annual acquisition budget devoted to collecting art in France is extremely variable. 30% of collectors spend less than 5,000 euros per year. At the other extreme, 16% spend more than 50,000 euros.
In order to collect art, one should have sufficient incomes, a desire to own material things and perhaps a desire to standout from the crowd. Therefore, it seems that the offer doesn’t fully meet the demand and expectations of the rest of the consumers who are not used to go to art galleries, or who are just not interested in art as it is presented today : hanged on museum, gallery or home walls. These new consumers are the millennials and the generation Z. They represent a potential target because they spend a lot of time online and are not afraid to buy experiences through this channel.
The art world won’t escape from digital transformation
Most industries have been disrupted by digitalisation in order to offer a differentiated customer experience (GAFA’s), be it music, movie, car, retail, banking or insurance industry. And the art world won’t escape from it. Take a look at museums offering immersive and digital experiences. They are attracting a large number of visitors. For example, the first immersive exhibition at l’Atelier des lumières in Paris (Gustave Klimt) attracted more than a million visitors in nine months, which is as much visitors as at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2018 and three times the number of visitors at the Centre Pompidou-Metz.
It seems that the new consumers prefer to spend money on inspiring experiences rather than on artworks. According to a study done by Eventbrite in 2017: 76% of Millennials say they prefer to spend money on experiments rather than on material things.
What's the future of art?
Artists are mainly trying to make a living by selling their works to art collectors, but it’s like winning the lottery, only a fraction of artists are winners and most of the artists must find another job that is often not related to their artistic practice. The question is: other than art collectors, who is truly interested in buying art meant to be hanged on a wall more than twice in 5 years? So far, it’s an industry that worked only for a few players and was never adapted to new consumers demand.
Don’t get me wrong, selling art remains an interesting source of income for some artists, but it’s not enough. It is important to define a new business model of artwork sales more as experiences rather than products and adapt it to the new consumers demand.
Nathalie Moureau ed., Le marché de l’art contemporain (pp. 25-41), Paris : La Découverte
korii.slate.fr “Les musées numériques : un succès qui dérange”, mars 2019