How Has the Art Market Evolved? And What’s Next?

Oct 14, 2021

A lot of ink has been spilled over the last year over the changes going on in the art market. And there’s no question that things have changed dramatically.

The pandemic brought about enormous challenges for the art world. From galleries to museums, from auction houses to openings, everyone has struggled.

Obviously, COVID-19 brought online sales to the foreground. No longer able to rely on in-person events and auctions, the art world relied on the new digital tools that have developed over the last several years.

That theme will continue to be a major story for years to come, and it defines all the other trends going on in the market. But other factors are making their presence felt. Let’s look in depth at the ways that the art market has had to evolve over the last year and what is coming up next.

Younger Collectors

Millennials are maturing into an even larger portion of the art market. But what does that mean for artists and galleries?

As digital natives, Millennials feel completely at home with the new digital tools available for finding and buying art. So as their share of the market grows, the friction with online sales will continue to disappear.

But Millennials also bring a lot less money to the table than previous generations.

Remember, this is a cohort that entered a job market rocked by the 2008 financial crisis, and while the economy recovered in some ways, the opportunities for major advancement have lagged behind other economic markers like the stock market.

Student loan debt has also plagued Millennials to a much greater degree than previous generations, especially among those most likely to be purchasing art. This has forced Millennials to put off traditional milestones of adulthood, like home ownersh.

So how do these trends come together?

As Millennials continue to grow as a portion of art buyers, average art prices will likely lower. This is bad news for the few artists and galleries working at the top, but it could spell a lot of opportunity for others.

Especially as these buyers are likely to be engaged in social media, new artists will have the chance to reach out to art lovers and sell directly to them. Younger artists won’t need to take a paycut to sell to these buyers, and they can use free platforms to reach them.

On the other hand, those smaller galleries that typically represent emerging artists will likely suffer for this change.

The Rise of Virtual Art Experiences

Throughout the last five years, many museums have come out with virtual reality and augmented reality experiences to stay relevant to the public.

But during 2020, those technologies have gone from a rare gimmick to gain attention to a vital lifeline between art institutions and a public staying at home.

The pandemic, then, saw a proliferation of these virtual art experiences, with many art lovers trying them out for the first time.

Meanwhile, virtual reality gear continues to lower in price and expand in market penetration. And smartphones are capable of delivering something like a virtual reality experience.

These virtual experiences present new horizons for experimentation and play on the part of artists, as well as new ways for art institutions to engage the public even as they start coming back in large numbers.

A More Collaborative Art Market

In difficult times, people tend to pull together and help each other out. Through 2020, we saw many collaborations between small, mid-size, and large organizations and institutions. At the time, it was a matter of mutual survival. But going forward, will it stick?


The new models of presenting art, from hybrid shows to pop-up events, have shown that there are many avenues the art world has yet to explore.

Those new ideas that permeated 2020 might not reappear in the exact same way, most of them were looking to create a contactless way to engage with art, but they will no doubt inspire new experimentation going forward.

Diversity in the Art Market

The push into digital spaces democratized access to art in many ways. It not only made it easier to find and enjoy art, but it also brought artists from both ends of the spectrum onto the same plane.

What does that mean? The art market has had a year to reassess what it wants and who it is looking for. And in that year, diversity in the art market greatly increased.

While the process is slow, it continues to make an impact.

And while the artist side is diversifying, so is the buyer side. In 2020, Sotheby’s reported that their online auctions brought in a lot of never before seen faces, with 30% of their audience being new buyers. And of those, a third were under 40.

That’s a compelling change. These new buyers will likely continue to be engaged with the art market. This block will push the market in new ways, no doubt, changing up trends in the long term.

The End Result

The changes outlined above were not chosen necessarily. They were things the art market had to do to survive, but the mark they leave will persist.

In the crisis, the changes have likely made the art market stronger than before. It was a difficult year, but as things recover, there are now more people making a living through art and buying art. There are more ways to engage with art than ever before. There are more price tiers available to more people. These are all positive changes.

What we might find after the dust settles is an art market that has evolved to be something much stronger and capable of weathering challenges than ever before.