Scene from "SOAP" (2020), by Tamar Guimarães, a film presented by Fortes D'Aloia and Gabriel at Art Basel Miami Beach and on the fdag platform. Courtesy of the artist, Dan Gunn London and Fortes D'Aloia & Gabriel

The forecast was the worst possible. With the arrival of the new coronavirus in Brazil and with the quarantine decrees starting in March, the agents of the art market could not see anything but a great crisis in the sector. When recalling this moment, the speeches of the gallerists interviewed by the arte!brasileiros always walk in the same direction. “The beginning was the hardest of all, I think nothing compares to this period”, says Eliana Finkelstein, from Vermelho. “The impact was really big in the months of March and April. It looked like it was going to be chaos”, says Alexandre Roesler, from Galeria Nara Roesler. According to Marcos Amaro, a partner at Kogan Amaro, April was an “almost zero” month, and it would be impossible to imagine that at a time of great concern and caution, people could think about buying art. Thiago Gomide, from Bergamin & Gomide, follows the same reasoning: “We are the first type of expense that is cut in a period of uncertainty. Buying art is a luxury and something you usually do when you're excited, with good prospects.”

The fact is that it didn’t take long for the picture to change, starting in May or June, and even in a year in which in-person fairs were canceled, one by one, the annual balance sheet of several gallery owners in 2020 clashes – sometimes drastically – than could be expected. “Despite the entire external context, for us the balance was extremely positive. It was the year in which the gallery sold the most”, says Bruna Bailune, from the young Aura gallery, founded in 2015. Amaro also talks about “excellent” months after the initial scare. If not all of them had such a positive performance, at least a recovery and reheating of the market are confirmed by the ten interviewees, including auctioneers and fair directors. Tamara Perlman, art market consultant and co-founder of the Parte fair, summarizes: “I have been talking to gallery owners and what you can see is that it was not a bad year, on the contrary, in general 2020 was a good year. The market is hot.”

A survey recently released by the Latitude Project – carried out by ABACT in partnership with Apex-Brasil and who interviewed more than 50 homes in the country – confirms this perception. On average, compared to their 2019 sales, the galleries showed the same or better results in the first and third quarters of 2020, with worse numbers only in the second quarter – which refers to the first months of the quarantine. The survey does not cover the last months of the year, but the gallery owners contacted by arte!brasileiros confirm that it must be another positive period.

The failure seen in other sectors of commerce in the country, therefore, passed away from the art market and, instead of witnessing the closing of houses, Brazil saw the opening of galleries such as HOA and Projeto Vênus, in São Paulo. , Index, in Brasília, in addition to the expansion of galleries such as Celma Albuquerque (with the new Casa Albuquerque) and Jaqueline Martins, with the opening of an office in Brussels. In another notable case, auctioneer James Lisboa said in a recent interview that in an auction held in August, he sold 97% of the works available (the average before the pandemic was 65%), including pieces with values ​​far above their initial prices.

The overall picture is much more positive in Brazil than in other regions, including central hubs of the art market such as the US and Europe. In a survey released by Art Basel and UBS in September, conducted with 795 galleries around the world, the data shows a 36% drop in home sales. A third of them had also cut the number of employees. Despite not including a good part of a second semester in which the picture was less dramatic, the survey provides a thermometer of the crisis in the sector. An attempt to understand the positive results for a significant part of the art market in Brazil – despite being one of the countries with the highest number of deaths due to the pandemic and experiencing intense political and economic crises – goes through a series of factors, ranging from macroeconomic aspects to behavioral changes, partnerships between houses and the improvement of their virtual performances.

ArtRio was one of the few fairs held both online and in person in 2020. Photo: Bruno Ryfer/ Disclosure

At home, with surplus

One of the perceptions of many gallery owners is that the increase in time spent indoors with social isolation has strengthened a desire and possibility to buy pieces of art. “This new way of life created another relationship with the space of the house itself, an intense coexistence that made many people start thinking about changing things”, says Alexandre Roesler. He even states that some of his clients decided to live for periods in their second homes (outside the city) and began to acquire works for these locations. In a similar vein, Bruna Bailune also highlights that the decrease in other types of expenses such as restaurants and travel, which were not possible for a long period, may have influenced the increase in sales of works.

"The elite are the ones who buy art and are the ones who suffered the least from the pandemic. So in a country as unequal as ours, and which has maintained or deepened this inequality, this explanation makes sense. In general, the main correlation that exists for the growth of the art market is, more than with the growth of wealth in the country, with the growth in the number of wealthy individuals and millionaires”, explains Tamara Perlman.

In addition to populating its walls and gardens, at a time of economic and political instability in Brazil, with low interest rates and large fluctuations in the stock market, art also emerged as a possibility of safe investment, at least when it comes to works of art. well-established or consecrated names. “Art is an asset that preserves the value of your heritage. Of course, this applies to artists already consolidated or on the way to this consolidation. And those who work with artists of this level are privileged. I heard from many galleries with this profile that it was possible to maintain or even surpass last year's sales level”, says Fernanda Feitosa, founder and director of SP-Arte. Alexandre Gabriel, partner at Fortes D'Aloia e Gabriel, also perceives this movement: “We are dealing with a public that has a surplus of capital, and this surplus goes somewhere. When you have a big fluctuation in the market - in the midst of this pandemonium, with such instability of government -, a collector with security and a good relationship with the gallery knows that he will be able to do a good deal, and that he may have access to works that before would not have”.

The sales success seen in part of the auctions, which work with the secondary market and mostly with renowned artists, also reinforces the hypothesis that investment in art was for some a kind of diversification of investments. For Aloísio Cravo, one of the most important auctioneers in the country, in a context of low interest rates, high dollar and still with a pandemic, the assets have a lot of value. “What you see from apartment launches is crazy, or even the numbers on record sales of imported cars.” After two difficult auctions in the middle of the year, Cravo cites a strong recovery in his last event, held in November, in which a work by Jorge Guinle, for example, had an initial price of R$ 180 thousand and was auctioned for R$ 260 thousand .

new buyers

But the fact is that not only works of great value and by renowned artists were sold during 2020. On the other hand, works by young names, with lower prices and often sold by smaller galleries, also gained commercial momentum in the period. According to research by the Latitude project, galleries that moved less than BRL 2019 in 500 had a proportionally better performance this year than those that moved up to BRL 10 million. According to Bailune, Aura, which has always had a young and practical audience in doing business with first-time buyers, completed a series of transactions that were locked in before the pandemic. “Several clients that we were prospecting started to buy, became clients of the gallery.”

The entry of a new public in the market is confirmed by other gallery owners and fair directors. Among the reasons mentioned, in addition to the aforementioned stay at home that affected all generations, is the fact that younger people have greater ease and habit of buying in the online universe – a sales space that has gained greater relevance in the pandemic. According to Perlman, mid-year data showed that on Artsoul, a platform for selling contemporary art, the number of hits had tripled and the number of sales had doubled. Fernanda Feitosa says that at both SP-Arte and SP-Foto, around 70% of visitors this year were there for the first time, that is, they were not regulars at the face-to-face editions held by the brand.

In this sense, the transparency adopted both by the sales platforms, the market places, as well as the fairs, which largely began to provide detailed data and prices of works, may have made life easier for young collectors. “I think this avoids an embarrassment that exists, especially at fairs, from people who have no idea about prices and don't feel comfortable attending this segment,” he says. Alexandre Roesler, who participated in about a dozen virtual fairs in the year, follows the same line: “The fact of having at least the range of values ​​made research much easier for people. At a physical fair, you usually don't know the price, sometimes you're ashamed to ask... The website gives more information, consultation possibilities and allows people to start getting familiar with the area.”

Feitosa also adds that there was an approach of an audience “more sensitive to the issues of the moment”, which may have benefited the sales of these smaller galleries. “There was support for young, black, women and minority artists. In other words, a purchasing public that is more aware of its role”, she adds, citing the participation in SP-Arte of the Levante Nacional Trovoa and Plataforma 01.01 projects, which focus on productions by Afro-Diasporic, non-binary, Asian and indigenous artists. No less important for the good results were the partnerships between galleries that mainly marked the first months of the pandemic. According to the Latitude survey, 66,1% of the agents in the Brazilian market reported having established new partnerships focused on the collectivization of solutions and with practices such as sharing sales targets with other galleries. The p.art.ilha was one of these collective initiatives, the most cited by the survey respondents, which stimulated sales also with commercial benefits for buyers.

Related to this closer look at current political issues, a phenomenon linked to institutions is another aspect that may have favored the Brazilian market in recent times. Whether out of awareness of the need for change or pressure from various social and artistic movements, important museums around the world are reviewing their collections to include works by women, black, indigenous, LGBT, Latino and Asian artists. Thiago Gomide, even noting that the average sales of his gallery in 2020 was below that of other years, has just completed the transaction of a sculpture by Lygia Clark for the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi for around R$10 million. It is worth remembering that the San Francisco MoMA recently sold a work by the American Mark Rothko for U$D 50 million to acquire a set of works by women artists or members of ethnic-racial minorities, and that the Everson Museum in Syracuse disposed of a work by Jackson Pollock to fill the same kind of gap. “So museums not only want but need to review their collections. And in this Brazil is well positioned”, concludes Gomide.

Work by Sérgio Camargo sold this year by the Bergamin & Gomide gallery. Photo: Disclosure

Experiencing and chasing the delay

The Viewing Rooms, a kind of virtual exhibition rooms, were the way found by most fairs around the world to not cancel their editions entirely. From the foreign ones like Art Basel, Frieze, TEFAF and Untitled to the national ones like SP-Arte or the unpublished Not Cancelled Brazil and Latitude Art Fair, all resorted to the creation of virtual spaces that, in general, became more sophisticated throughout the year. . If the sales results did not always reach the numbers of other years, the expenses for the galleries were also infinitely lower. “At fairs, the price of the booth, travel, accommodation, transport of works and insurance, everything is a very high budget. And even the gallery's virtual exhibitions were cheaper to do. What happened, at the end of the year, is that we managed to keep the billing, but the expense fell”, says Roesler.

In an almost forced way, the arrival of the pandemic forced a review of models and working methods that, according to the gallerists and fair organizers themselves, were already beginning to show signs of exhaustion. The excess of displacements around the world, in an incessant schedule throughout the year, will certainly be reviewed, even in a post-pandemic future. “I think that fairs will become more and more local, and what will connect the event with the world is online. A fair in London will mainly receive people from London, and the virtual one will serve people from outside”, supposes Finkelstein. For fairs in countries outside the central axis of the market, such as Brazil, this can be beneficial, according to Feitosa. “We are at least ten hours away from the US, Europe and even further from Japan, for example. So the flow of international visitors to a fair here is lower than in other countries. With online, this year I had 15% foreign visitors at SP-Arte, while at the on-site fair this number was on average 2%.”

The hybrid format, in which the event takes place on a reduced scale in person and is complemented by the virtual platform, was experimented by ArtRio, held at a time when the first wave of the pandemic seemed to be waning and the second had not arrived. The result was praised by the gallery owners interviewed, who confirmed that a high number of transactions had been carried out. “I believe that this hybrid model is what will work for both fairs and galleries. Those that manage to operate both online and offline with the same strength will survive,” says Bailune. As for the auctions, Aloísio Cravo adds: “From now on, to hold an auction in person, it has to be with an exceptional collection, a solemnity. Because I feel that this online model worked very well.”

In this sense, the great movement and effort of Brazilian houses to remain active and present on virtual platforms throughout the year is remarkable. Exhibitions became Viewing Rooms; lives with gallerists, curators and artists popped up on social media; new platforms emerged and the production of video, audio and image content was intensified. “The person who did digital communication became the most important person in the gallery”, jokes Thiago Gomide. For Alexandre Gabriel, “any project that we are going to do from now on, I will think about what his image is online, as it also happens virtually. And there's no going back."

It is in this sense that Tamara Perlman perceives an important change, which has been necessary for some time. “Very quickly galleries came together in one way or another, changed business models, adopted technologies and tested things. And that was very interesting because they gave themselves the right to experiment, which was a very difficult thing – even for an understandable reason, since they live by reputation. So in building a brand, houses are very afraid of making mistakes. And the pandemic, especially the beginning, was a moment when that changed: you can test; can try; it's ok for a large gallery to be next to a small one.” Fortes D'Aloia e Gabriel, for example, participated in Art Basel Miami Beach only with artist films, which would be unthinkable in another context, and took the opportunity to launch the platform fdg, dedicated only to audiovisual works.

the irreplaceable 

Despite the positive balance, the virtual advance and the entry of new collectors into the market, gallery owners admit a certain exhaustion with the situation. “I'll tell you that I'm starting to feel like my hard drive is scratched”, comments Gabriel. “It was a lot of work, an insane thing.” Murilo Castro, who promoted 50 lives during the pandemic, goes in the same direction: “I would say I never worked as hard as I did this year. And I miss relationships, because our area thrives on personal contact, on reliability. So I don't think online can replace that, but increase information and possibility”.

Alexandre Roesler, even considering fewer trips – “we have already seen that it is possible to solve a lot in a videoconference” – also points out that even the experience at a fair, sometimes tiring, has several irreplaceable benefits: “You take a trip and go to museums , exhibitions, meet people you only see on this circuit, meet new artists”. What is expected, therefore, is that in a post-pandemic world, digital advances, added to the insertion of new and young buyers, are added to a resumption of face-to-face activities. “I would say that in terms of the market we will have a gain in the future”, concludes Castro. But it cannot be denied: “Culturally, yes, this was a very bad year”.

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