The art industry's digital evolution

The pandemic has been a catalyst in the art market's long-awaited shift into technology – from the rise of new rental platform Gertrude to new opportunities for businesses and emerging talent.
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In the first few months of 2020, the art industry ‘went into cardiac arrest – none of the traditional ways of doing business worked,’ according to Anders Petterson of market research firm ArtTactic

He wasn't exaggerating. A report from art fair organization Art Basel and investment banking company UBS painted a bleak picture, showing how the art market dropped from $64.4b in sales in 2019 to $50.1b last year. 

But, way before the pandemic came along, the art industry was already due a shake up. For the new wave of art businesses – and there are now lots of them – the key to success largely comes down to taking advantage of the art market's digital pivot. Or, at least, speeding it up. 

Art in the right place

Among the front runners is Gertrude, a London-based art rental platform that could bring new revenue streams for emerging artists. Established artists are renting out their work on the platform, too; later this month, customers will be able to subscribe to artworks by Paula Rego, the subject of a recent exhibition at London's Tate Britain gallery, for just £50 per month.

If Gertrude proves successful – which won't be easy in such an old‑school industry – it will make the art world much more accessible and evenly distributed. It will also switch the focus of the art world away from an object-based economy to an experiential one. Gertrude's subscription model has already been compared with streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify. 

The end of the starving artist 

Will Jarvis, the co-founder of The Sunday Painter gallery in south London and a founding member of Gertrude, says the idea came out of ‘the major frustration of seeing the sheer volume of art that ends up in storage that remains unseen, unsold and unloved for years. What's more, we have cave paintings dating back 100,000 years, and every child draws. It's perverse that the art industry has, in part, been claimed by the luxury industry; it should be for everybody, not just a select few.’ 

‘The current art market model is reliant upon a handful of people,’ he explains, ‘and if they don't buy the work for whatever reason, a lot of amazing art disappears into the abyss of storage. Also, [there are] thousands of people who pay £50 to go to art fairs but can't afford to buy art; it just feels like a no-brainer that we can combine this demand with this supply.’ 

The Gertrude platform works on a few different levels. Some artists will receive around £150 to £300 a month. ‘This will have real impact, especially for those just getting started out in their career,’ says Will. ‘Artists can also rent their work and essentially hold onto ownership, therefore generating a passive income without losing the asset. They stay in control and become less reliant on external gatekeepers.’ 

Despite the fact that Will has skin in the game, co-founding an art gallery himself, he describes the art market as ‘largely conservative and fickle. A lot of galleries get caught up in high cost, high-value sales and acquisitions. Gertrude isn't an alternative, but an addition; the platform offers a way to make things more efficient and sustainable over the long term, and to allow people greater access to a greater number of artists.’

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more insights, analysis and inspiration, sign up here.

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