Industry Trends

What’s next for the Modern Art market?

Written by Beulah | 12th September 2019

As Modern Art buyers are moving online, traditional auction houses are having to come up with new, inventive ways to attract millennial and gen Z buyers, while artists are increasingly opting to sell their own work. And Street Art is changing the very nature of how we think about form and ownership. With all of these changes and more to come, we’ve asked Modern Art experts Cécilia Chol, Blanca Marsal and Anita Helmy to take us through the trends currently shaking up the Modern Art market.

Evolution of the auction house

Cécilia Chol is a Modern Art expert who spent three years working at the prestigious Artcurial auction house in Paris. The move from Artcurial to a purely online auction site like Catawiki has given her a unique insight into the way the internet is changing art auctions. “The traditional [Modern Art} market regularly suffers from a lack of supply and seems to have reached its structural limits,” Cécilia explains. “Classic auction houses are struggling to maintain their margins as they are obliged to propose more retrospective commissions in order to have top pieces.”

This is one reason for the surge in online auctions, says Cécilia “The Modern Art market is having to move towards an online-only way of selling. While there are numerous online auction aggregators, a few European auction houses have already developed their own online-only auction platforms. The trend is massive. The purpose is to fill the vacuum that inevitably emerges when numerous objects can no longer be offered in the auction room because of the logistics required and the high costs of catalogs, alongside the changing requirements of a new generation of buyers and sellers.”

An obvious result of this shift has been the move towards Exclusive Online Previews. Traditionally, art auction houses would offer certain select buyers a chance to preview artwork prior to an auction. Today, you are just as likely to receive an email invitation to a private auction website. At Catawiki, we’ve been running Exclusive auction previews for the last year in our Modern Art, Photography and Classical Art categories. While the benefit to buyers and browsers is clear (for instance, chance to size up top lots before committing to a bid), the benefits to the business are still being explored.

A little boy photographs Street Art in New York

A.I. painting and digital art

Artificial Intelligence artworks (artwork created by computers) are also shaking up the way we collect and engage with Modern Art. This trend is partly propelled by the emergence of Street Art as a serious player in the contemporary art world. Not only are we having to readjust our definitions of Street Art as it moves from the streets into traditional galleries (a topic touched upon in this interview with Street Art expert Ard Doko), we are also facing bigger questions about form and ownership.

“Over the next decade prints will become more and more important as Street Art increases its share of the market and A.I. paintings grow in popularity,” Cécilia explains. “This will shift the culture so that we will no longer go to auction exhibitions. Instead we will browse online and exhibitions will become multi-model with defined programs. Ultimately, this will mean moving away from simple, unguided exhibits and auctioneers will do more to curate collectors’ experience.”

Millennial and gen Z collectors

Blanca Marsal is intrigued by the ways in which millennial and gen Z collectors have transformed traditional art markets. “The disruption to the art market has been going on for a while,” she explains. “This was somewhat unthinkable a decade ago. The market has been fully globalised. Art was always seen as secretive and private, whereas now it is much more accessible to all incomes and ages.”

A recent report on trends in the Modern Art market backs up Blanca’s analysis. The report found that 23% of millennial art collectors bought their first piece of art online and 29% of collectors prefer buying art online to buying in a physical space, such as a gallery or at an art fair. Auction houses are having to change and adapt to the requirements of new generations.

Cécilia elaborates: “For millennials, these recent technologies create new ways to both experience and buy art. As a result, new business models continue to emerge like aggregators, online platforms, etc. Furthermore, art auctions, fairs, and museums are creating programs and events targeted specifically toward young collectors.”

The way we create, sell and buy art is moving online

Self-selling artists

The makeup of the people who sell art is also changing. As Blanca points out: “[Art experts] are now seeing increasing amounts of self-represented young artists that promote their work through social media. Diversity in sellers has led to a clear trend for female artists and people of colour that was long overdue. Even classic art museums are catching up to this trend, such as the Prado showcasing two female artists from the 16th-century.”

As an artist herself, Modern Art expert Anita Helmy has a clear overview of both sides of this relationship, including the benefits artists are starting to reap. “We have many artists who prefer to sell their own work online. This allows them to have more control of the way their work is valued and promoted than they would have with a traditional gallery. One example is Andrea Giorgi. He started selling open editions or large editions. [Catawiki] communicated that it was better to lower the edition, and make it more special. Now he has Single Seller Auctions every year, with only limited editions."


The Catawiki Autumn 2019 Art Collection is live and ready for viewing. The exclusive Modern Art Auction, Photography Auction and Classical Art Auctions will be open for bids from 20th-29th September.

Discover more Modern Art | Pop Art | Street Art

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