The art market in the new normal

Font Size


ALL aspects of life have been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic, and the art world is no exception. From art fairs that have to consider how to deal with the need for social distancing, to artists discovering new ways to reach their audiences and reconsidering their relationship with galleries, every part of the art world has had to adjust.

In normal times, Filpino artist Kristoffer Ardeña alternates his time between Negros Island and Spain. But since he was caught by the lockdown in his hometown of Bacolod, he has been suffering from a creative block.

“One thing that I was very conscious of not doing was production,” said Mr. Ardeña. “In lockdown, I did not want to produce [artworks]. If ever I create something, it’s more about experimenting,” he said, adding that most of his time has been spent on reflecting, reading, writing, listening to talks online, and still staying informed. “It’s actually nice to pause and not work. It’s so refreshing to do nothing. It’s not something I’m used to,” he said.

Having a break during the lockdown has allowed him to take time and think about what he wants to do next.

Speaking at a webinar titled, Art. What Now? held on June 17 via Zoom, he, along with others in the art industry, discussed the future of the art scene in the new normal.


Access to digital platforms and social media were resources which were non-existent in past pandemics. Digital technology has given new opportunities for artists to showcase their creativity on a wider platform.

“One benefit of COVID has been the really empowering of online digital visual communication and graphic design. The crisis has actually served as a trigger for organizations to reanalyze their own visual identities and branding,” said Chris Green, Deputy Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design Manila (MCAD).

Valentine Willie, founding creative director of Ilham Gallery in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said that the gallery conducted online talks with artists overseas, and surrendered its Instagram account to an artist on weekends to keep audiences engaged during the lockdown.

“We’ve invited artists and cultural workers to take part and use our platform to reach a wider audience, even though we are closed technically,” Mr. Willie said.

Mr. Willie suggested that artists nowadays can reinvent themselves by showing their works on social media, such as by opening an Instagram account.

“Galleries will still have a role, but it is [up to] artists to reinvent themselves, and see how much they need galleries to promote their work,” Mr. Willie added.


Since the outbreak of COVID-19 during the first quarter of the year, international art fairs such as Art Basel Hong Kong and Art Dubai have been canceled, but some launched online viewing rooms and held online talks to stay accessible to the global art market during the pandemic.

In the local art scene, the 8th Art Fair Philippines and the newly launched Alt Philippines managed to push through in February. However, the 14th edition of Art in the Park, which was originally scheduled on March 15, was postponed.

Art Fair Philippines’ Dindin Araneta — who is also the Chairperson of the Arts Management Program of the School of Design and Arts of La Salle College of Saint Benilde — said that she and her fellow co-founders Trickie Lopa and Lisa Ongpin-Periquet started discussions on their art fair a month ago.

“We can no longer set up the Art Fair [Philippines] like we used to” due to restrictions on crowds and health and safety precautions, Ms. Araneta said. Since its debut in 2013, Art Fair Philippines has been held at four enclosed floors of The Link parking lot in Makati City. It regularly attracts around 40,000 visitors over three days.

Ms. Araneta said that they have been keeping an eye on what the international art fairs such as Art Basel are doing, and are exploring ideas and the infrastructure of going digital. No concrete plans have been made so far.

Due to the current restrictions on both public gatherings, art fairs and galleries have had to reconfigure and think of both their staff and the visiting public. As they have started to open physical exhibits with the relaxation of the quarantine, many galleries in Metro Manila have been skipping holding opening receptions and exhibit goers can visit the galleries by appointment only.

Mr. Willie, whose Singapore gallery is reopening with a photography exhibition next month, said there is a “reluctance in visiting public spaces at the moment,” adding that they had to consider things like whether the works should be shown together in one area or separately displayed.

Despite the opportunities that the digital platform offers, director and curator of MCAD Manila Yeyey Cruz noted that the full enjoyment of art needs physical engagement.

“Even though it works for the moment that we look at and encounter art through our screens, there will come a point where we will need to realize that art cannot exist just on a flat surface,” Ms. Cruz said. “At the end of the day, [I think] to experience art continually, [you] still work with tangible objects.”

In terms of the future strategies of galleries, Mr. Willie suggests that artists take charge in promoting themselves and for galleries to adapt in helping promote the artists they represent. This includes the possibility of charging a smaller percentage as commission since both the artist and the gallery, Mr. Willie said, “will have different ways to access the market.”

For Mr. Ardeña, the situation varies depending on the gallery. He noted that the galleries in Spain have a different set of priorities from those in Bacolod, following the challenges brought by the pandemic. Mr. Ardeña said that locally, artists have gathered to raise funds for hospitals and poor communities affected by the COVID-19 crisis, while in Spain, the artists were more focused on receiving subsidies from the government.

Since March, he has been in constant communication with galleries and dealers to understand the needs of both parties.

“It is important to build long-term relationships with clients. It’s more than just connecting with a collector,” he said, adding that he would often ask clients first what they think of his works.

As an artist, Mr. Ardeña hopes to explore possibilities beyond gallery spaces in showcasing his art. “It’s more about re-assessing public engagement. I love working in a public space and putting a painting on the street.

“We’re still in a stage of thinking of a response,” he said. “It’s about learning from what we are in right now. As artists we have our understanding of our own position in terms of the locality that we work in and where we think we are.” — Michelle Anne P. Soliman