2021 Art Market Predictions From Art Advisor Elisa Carollo

James Ardis
Published on
Photo of Elisa Carollo.
Photo of Elisa Carollo.

After witnessing the cancellation of almost every major art fair in 2020, making art market predictions for 2021 is an intimidating task. Elisa Carollo, art advisor and Milan Editor of Art She Says, was nonetheless up for the challenge when Auction Daily spoke with her earlier this week. She discussed the future of in-person art fairs and where she thinks online viewing rooms are falling short, among other topics. 

Auction Daily: Next year may be the hardest in recent memory to forecast for any industry. But in general, what are your 2021 art market predictions? Which trends should collectors, dealers, art fairs, and auction houses be keeping an eye on?

Elisa Carollo: When we consider the contemporary art market (which is my main area of expertise), trends are not just “spotted.” They are established and confirmed throughout a year-long cycle of fairs, art weeks, and major events around the world. 

Because of the ban on travel and full stop of events, forecasting upcoming market trends and rising stars is quite difficult. In general, though, the most discussed trend is the art market’s focus on going digital. Galleries are adapting to the opportunities of the online marketplace, both in the gallery and in the auction world.

Frieze London 2019. Photo from the Culture Whisper.
Frieze London 2019. Photo from the Culture Whisper.

I think the move online has allowed galleries to control the narrative and establish trends privately. Many galleries are testing artists’ marketability through PDFs very privately. The galleries are unable to host public shows, which, again, makes it harder for the general public to track these trends and to influence them. 

AD: In a recent LinkedIn post, you suggested that many collectors are buying new works via email with galleries they’ve done business with before. You think fewer of these collectors are making purchasing decisions based on the online viewing rooms offered by galleries, auction houses, and fairs. Do you think this will continue to be the case, or will online viewing rooms slowly build more trust, even among skeptics? 

Carollo: In my post, I was referring to the data revealed by the New York City Art Market report released earlier this month. What I found interesting is how it emerged that the overwhelming online-viewing-room complex is already collapsing under its own weight. Most collectors, at the end, now are just browsing a little on online art fairs, but would rather buy (if they buy) through emails and PDFs sent by galleries they’ve already developed a relationship with.

These galleries are often local to the collector. This provides a new opportunity for middle-sized and small galleries that would otherwise be wiped out by the pandemic. 

This is something I’ve also seen in Europe over the past few months: the galleries and dealers who are doing well are the ones with a strong base of avid collectors. For some, this year has been much better in terms of sales than 2019. 

AD: At this point, we know that things will never fully “return to normal.” The coronavirus changed how every industry does business. With that being said, what do you think will inevitably return to the art market once the coronavirus is less of a concern, perhaps in late 2021 or 2022? 

Carollo: I feel that, despite the rush to digital, once the coronavirus is less of a concern, we will all rapidly return to prefer IRL events. I’m convinced that these events will never be fully substituted even by the best technology.

Art Basel 2019, featuring Jeff Koons’ Sacred Heart. Photo from Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images.
Art Basel 2019, featuring Jeff Koons’ Sacred Heart. Photo from Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images.

This is for the same reason I mentioned earlier: the art world is fundamentally a people-based business, predominantly made of encounters, exchanges, and relations. Also, for many involved in the global contemporary art scene, attending fairs and events has become part of their lifestyle. They won’t easily give that up.

Fair calendars will probably (and hopefully) be reimagined to be more reasonable in length and frequency. They may have to scale down their events and have more easy-to-navigate arrangements. However they look, I do not believe these events will disappear. 

On the other hand, I also feel that the new digital skills that the art and museum world acquired over this period will only enhance the in-person offerings. As for me, I’m ready to book my tickets to Frieze New York in May and Los Angeles in July as soon as they (hopefully) lift the travel ban. It is the only way to keep and refresh my contacts on the other side of the ocean.

Elisa Carollo at Ulla Von Brandenburg’s Palais de Tokyo show. Photo from Carollo’s Instagram page.
Elisa Carollo at Ulla Von Brandenburg’s Palais de Tokyo show. Photo from Carollo’s Instagram page.

AD: At Art She Says, you do a wonderful job of spotlighting women artists with work available in art fairs around the world. In your opinion, which art fairs are doing a particularly excellent job representing women artists of all different backgrounds and aesthetics? 

Carollo: Actually, at Art She Says, we are pointing out how there’s no fair specifically dedicated to supporting women artists and dealers in the arts. This could be a project we could work on as soon as in-person events are possible again. But definitely, in certain galleries’ presentations at fairs, as well as in their programs, we are finally seeing a more gender-balanced art market.  

I believe this is partially due to institutions reconsidering and acquiring women artists to balance their collections. This consequently drove some major market trends in the past few years as new attention went to long-overlooked women artists not only in the postwar era (ex: Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, and Ruth Asawa) but also in Modern art (ex: Tamara de Lempicka and Leonor Fini) and even Old Masters (ex: Artemisia Gentileschi and Angelica Kauffmann).

Installation from “Ruth Asawa: Life’s Work.” Photo from the estate of Ruth Asawa and David Zwirner.
Installation from “Ruth Asawa: Life’s Work.” Photo from the estate of Ruth Asawa and David Zwirner.

However, there is still much to do. Despite a recent Artnet News analysis that revealed female artists comprised 52% of galleries’ new additions in 2020, works by female artists still generally sell for lower prices. More importantly, the market for art by women is not only smaller, but it is also disproportionately concentrated on a few artists or a few categories. 

The same Artnet report found that just five artists account for USD 1.6 billion of the $4 billion total spent on work by women over the past 11 or so years. 40.7% of the market share was split between major names such as Yayoi Kusama, Joan Mitchell, Louise Bourgeois, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Agnes Martin. Also, women of color accounted for only 25% of those new women-artist additions. 

I’m also afraid this is just a speculative bubble and not a real correction of long-held biases. I hope that soon we will get to the point that we will no longer use the category of “female artists” or “Black woman artists,” since this looks more and more like a speculative label just to address or create hype around a trend. It’s totally unnecessary if we want real equality. 

AD: Who are a few of the emerging women artists that collectors should keep an eye on in 2021?   

Carollo: I’ll name just a few artists that I believe in, and I truly like. But I can’t say too much about why and when, as the market analysis and advice is my job, ha. 

Portia Zvavahera, Kennedy Yanko, Ambera Wellmann, Ebony G. Patterson, Jenna Gribbon, Donna Huanca, Hayv Kahraman, Ariana Papademetropoulos, Firelei Báez, Carolina Caycedo, Zehra Doğan, Genevieve Gaignard.

…they were just boys (…when they grow up…) by Ebony Patterson. Photo from Art Africa.
…they were just boys (…when they grow up…) by Ebony Patterson. Photo from Art Africa.

Elisa Carollo is an Art Advisor and USPAP-compliant ISA member Appraiser, with a special focus on 20th-century and contemporary art. She graduated from Christie’s New York with an MA in Art, Law and Business. She currently lives in Italy and serves as a curator for a private art foundation and art collection, as well as working as a freelance advisor for collectors, galleries, art fairs, and artists. She also writes for international magazines such as Art She Says, a platform to empower women in the arts, where she’s the Milan Editor. Follow her on LinkedIn or Instagram

Want to read more interviews with experts across categories? Auction Daily recently spoke with Stuart Weiss, Sr. about beer stein collecting ahead of the holidays.