The Biggest Art Trends Of 2020: Virtual Exhibitions, Online Art Auctions & More
We look back at the trends the art industry set this year—from virtual exhibitions to pandemic-themed artworks and more
The pandemic has posed challenges to a lot of industries this year––be it beauty, food, travel or fitness––resulting in trends that are very reflective of the times we're living in. The art world is no exception and like others, the industry has adopted many ways to continue showcasing art in various ways.
To highlight how the year has been for art, we're rounding up the biggest art trends of 2020, from virtual exhibitions, digital art to online auctions and more with some insights from experts in the field.
Exhibitions go virtual
With travel restrictions on hold and social distancing measures in place, a lot of museums around the world have had to either temporarily close or move their exhibitions online. And while browsing artworks physically is still the most preferred way, online exhibitions have allowed art to transcend across boundaries. We can see an art piece in Europe all the way from our homes here in Hong Kong and it provided a different kind of viewing experience.
Well-known museums like the Lourve to Brooklyn Museum have opted to go virtual, with others such as Schoeni Projects holding two exhibitions, disCONNECT LDN and disCONNECT HK both physically and also online. "As everyone was beginning to replace physical attendance with virtual exhibitions, we questioned whether it was possible to replace a physical art experience with a digital experience. Clearly, one has to always see artworks such as the ones created for our project in person and within the context of its location and that can never be replaced," said Nicole Schoeni, founder of Schoeni Projects and Schoeni Art Consultancy.
While the pandemic prompted exhibitions to go virtual, it seems that the trend will only continue as this new format of exhibiting art not only challenged but opened up possibilities of viewing art beyond traditional means. "There are so many forms in which art expresses itself and I think it’s a platform that merits continued exploration and trying to push boundaries, particularly since the younger generation are becoming more of a digitally-driven society," added Schoeni.
Art has always been a platform where artists reflect their own stories, but also where they tell the stories happening in society and in 2020, this seemed more important than ever. Contemporary artists are creating pandemic-themed artworks to represent the times we're living and also to document it for the future generation. Notorious British street artist Bansky himself has created a number of street artworks that highlight the pandemic.
Schoeni Project held the disCONNECT HK exhibition where the artworks were related to the pandemic in some way. "We wanted the project to be 'of the moment' and to confront the obstacles and uncertainty of the changing nature of Covid-19 and its global effects to create a dialogue and discussion around the topic," said Schoeni. "The pandemic has consumed 2020 and has brought to the spotlight many social, economic and political issues that already exist across the globe. It is only natural that many artists turn to the pandemic for inspiration, art is a way to reflect and connect with others," she added.
Hong Kong artist Jaffa Lam, whose artwork was part of the exhibition, reimagined a toilet in an old tenement building into a paradise for humankind to rest their mind during the pandemic. She wanted to highlight the materials that people took from granted during this pandemic. We've seen hoarding of toilet papers and Lam believes that her redesigned toilet "created for a short time [allowed] rethinking on 'where is the safest world in the world' and 'is lockdown is really a nightmare'?"
The pandemic has bought a lot of things to a standstill, but these pandemic-themed artworks allowed us to look back and see how these trying times have affected us and also allowed for more artistic expression.
Online auctions boom
Again because of the pandemic, auctions that most often happen physically have moved online. In many ways this benefitted many as moving online allowed for more interested bidders and buyers to participate without the need of being there physically due to continued travel restrictions, social distancing measures and lockdown in many parts of the world. Kevin Ching, CEO of Sotheby's Asia noted a dramatic increase in online auctions sales "using technology to create new ways of transacting."
For Sotheby's, their accelerated online sales have soared to new heights with a staggering online sales increase compared to 2019. In total, they held 63 online auctions across a diverse range of categories from Chinese works of art to contemporary art which amounted to nearly HK$250 million. Their first live-streamed format just this October generated two million views across the digital and social platforms. Online bidding has also become more popular with more than half of lots going to online bidders.
"A number of new digital innovations brought virtual access to clients regardless of physical boundaries, who responded enthusiastically to new tools and means of engagement, including enhanced digital catalogues, virtual specialist-guided tours, virtual exhibitions and social media communications," said Ching.
Rise in digital art
Technology has taken over our lives even more this year. The use of Zoom to communicate with family, hold online classes and host virtual parties has helped us navigate and find our footing during the pandemic. Even fashion houses have explored ways that they can make use of technology and the digital format, for instance, Gucci's series of videos and Balenciaga's video game presented their new collections. Technology's influence in the art world doesn't come as a surprise. Over the years, digital art––ways in which art and technology connect––have been on the rise and this year is where we see it completely utilised by artists, galleries and art collectives as they experiment on ways they can continue to create art that's boundless and limitless.
For instance, teamLab, an international art collective that has made use of technology when it comes to their installations has continued its expansion this year. "Digital technology enables complex detail and freedom for change. Before people started accepting digital technology, information and artistic expression had to be presented in some physical form. The advent of digital technology allowed human expression to become free from these physical constraints, enabling it to exist independently," the art collective said.
"We have created an artwork that allows people to experience being connected to others and the world, even in the comfort of their homes. Flowers Bombing Home is an artwork that transforms the television in your home into an artwork. The novel coronavirus has forced the world to become more isolated, causing people to become confined to their homes. teamLab’s artworks are also designed to help people experience the beauty of a world without boundaries and the beauty of anti-division," they added.
Dinosaur fossil collecting
Interest in collecting dinosaur fossils has been booming over the years but this year is where the interest peaked when the T-rex dubbed Stan shattered previous auctions records. The bidder at Christie's paid US$32 million for one of the most complete T-rex skeletons ever found.
The enthusiasm for fossil collecting is seen as an interesting alternative to paintings, wine or a car—items that auctions usually offer. When Christie's first started adding to its natural history department in 2012 and 2013, the total sales were only around £100,000 and this skyrocketed to £2.5 million last year and eventually tripled with the sale of Stan this year. What's interesting about Stan is rather than being in a dedicated natural history auction section, it's part of the 20th-century paintings and sculptures section joining the ranks of Cézanne, Rothko and Picasso.
"Certain works and objects have the ability to transcend categories,” says James Hyslop, head of science and natural history at Christie’s.
To an extent, this places dinosaur fossils as a work of art which may not be surprising since dinosaur fossil exhibits have been part of museums alongside conventional works of art. "There is a long and rich association between [natural history] and the wider art market. It is really born in the kunstkammers and cabinets of curiosity first seen in Europe, and recently these have had a revival," adds Hyslop.