Art Advisor Elisa Carollo on the State of the Market (Part 1)

James Ardis
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Elisa Carollo with Diego Gualandris’ Bejuquilla, 2020, 
part of “Italian Twist,” an  exhibition she co-curated for Fondazione Imago Mundi, Treviso. 
Image by Marco Pavan.
Elisa Carollo with Diego Gualandris’ Bejuquilla, 2020, 
part of “Italian Twist,” an  exhibition she co-curated for Fondazione Imago Mundi, Treviso. 
Image by Marco Pavan.

2020 and 2021 have been years of rapid-fire change for an industry that normally favors tradition. Like many others, art advisor Elisa Carollo had to temporarily say “goodbye” to a full calendar of in-person art fairs across continents. At first, this brought progress to a grinding halt. But eventually, a new digital infrastructure arose that allowed Carollo and other art market insiders to stay connected and discover new work. 

Last year, Auction Daily spoke with Elisa Carollo to get her predictions for the art market in 2021. Now, halfway through the year, she takes a look at all of the things that did (and didn’t) go according to plan. She’ll also return next week to discuss a few of her recent projects, contemporary Italian art, and the ongoing push for art world diversity.

Auction Daily: Last year, we gave you the nearly impossible task of predicting trends in the art market for 2021. Now that the year is halfway over, what have been some of the major surprises for you? 

Elisa Carollo: I can’t believe that it’s been well over six months since the last time we did an interview! Unexpectedly, the time has flown for me, despite everything (and despite my consistent will to fly away). Eventually, I was lucky enough to always have a quite fast-paced schedule between projects and new opportunities. 

Since the first lockdown, we’ve progressively adapted to this new environment, where you do your best at the local level (meaning where you can act, work, and contribute easily on a daily basis). Meanwhile, we are also trying to stay connected with the rest of the world, by working remotely on multiple (sometimes ambitious) projects for after the pandemic. That, at least, has been my daily reality over the past few months.

My first surprise was my own ability to keep track of all of this, working on multiple levels through different time zones and projects. I’m not sure this is something everybody can do in the art world, but for sure new generations, as digital natives, we’re the most well-equipped to do this and fastly adapt to this new environment. 

The pandemic has deeply shaken, in many senses, all the business models the art world was used to and has accelerated some changes that were ongoing and probably much needed. I was surprised to see how a new generation of young dealers, curators, and artists was able to take the stage during the pandemic. This was thanks in part to new digital media.

Setting up “Regarding Venice,” an exhibition co-organized by Elisa Carollo at Galleria Poggiali, Milan. 
Image by Michele Alberto Sereni.
Setting up “Regarding Venice,” an exhibition co-organized by Elisa Carollo at Galleria Poggiali, Milan. 
Image by Michele Alberto Sereni.

Honestly, I was not expecting the art world to be so quick and direct in embracing this much-needed digitalization. Today, we have an entire rising digital art market, which has been finally accepted, institutionalized, and sought after, such as the multi-million-dollar obsession with NFTs.

Most surprisingly, even the most traditional markets and the most traditional dealers are moving to digital, including some very regional auction houses or galleries here in Italy. I think this was just the natural result of a whole year where most of our interactions and relations were mediated through video, making us much more likely to appreciate and reconsider art on the screen. 

Then, of course, there are also more economic reasons for the rise of digital art. That includes the tech billionaires who made their fortune during the pandemic, mostly in cryptocurrency, which now needs to be “parked” somewhere. Nothing new under the sun for the art world, is there? In fact, this “new market” is just rapidly replicating the ordinary art market dynamics, hierarchies, biases, and pitfalls. I have to admit, though, that there was some big progress made in terms of accessibility and transparency compared to just a few years ago. 

The pandemic has brought some major changes that impact the way we sell and promote art, as well as the way we make, enjoy, and appreciate it. This ubiquitous digital mediascape affects the new canon, and the art world is consequently responding.

REPLICATOR by Micah Dowbak (also known as Mad Dog Jones). Image from Phillips.
REPLICATOR by Micah Dowbak (also known as Mad Dog Jones). Image from Phillips.

Auction Daily: We’ve enjoyed a few (at least partially) in-person art fairs this year, including Art Basel Hong Kong and Frieze New York. What do you think these fairs have done well? And where do you think there’s still room to improve? 

Elisa Carollo: The pandemic has pushed traditionally in-person art fairs to innovate and find new models to pursue their mission in presenting art while connecting people across the world, both online and offline. 

Despite the many restrictions (well beyond finding a VIP pass for the preview!), after months of viewing-room fatigue, I can imagine that Art Basel Hong Kong and Frieze New York were a relief for the lucky ones attending them. Still, they were both very far from the major international events they used to be: both were way more regional. For that reason, though, they were also better at connecting with the local community. I’m thinking particularly of galleries at Art Basel Hong Kong that were surprised by the large interest from local buyers, many of whom were totally new clients for them.

We also saw how these fairs explored some futuristic, innovative devices while trying to make up for the physical absence of some international exhibitors, ranging from ghost booths to the use of holograms— though I believe the technology isn’t quite there yet. Still, major changes are going on in the fair business.

With this in mind, I find it quite interesting that Frieze decided to invest in No.9 Cork Street. The plan is to allow galleries to present their works to new audiences in another international city, as well as provide collectors with a new set of membership-based experiences across the globe. I see this as a reconnection to the genesis of fairs, a flexible platform for international connections. I’m also very curious to see how Art Basel will be in September. Being on this side of the globe, it is finally my time to attend a “more regional” Art Basel event live!

Elisa Carollo appreciating Monica Bonvicini’s art installation for the “Art Takes Over” project in Milan. 
Image from Carollo’s Instagram page.
Elisa Carollo appreciating Monica Bonvicini’s art installation for the “Art Takes Over” project in Milan. 
Image from Carollo’s Instagram page.

Auction Daily: In our last interview, you cited a New York City Art Market report to support your belief that online viewing rooms are not as popular or trusted by collectors as some previously believed. So far in 2021, online viewing rooms are still a major part of fairs like Frieze New York and comprise the entirety of Art Basel’s June event. Do you think online viewing rooms have a future in the art world, or will they quickly vanish once enough people are fully inoculated?

Elisa Carollo: As I said, quite unexpectedly, we rapidly adapted to all these new possibilities to discover, experience, learn, buy, and sell art. I feel we eventually got accustomed to this interface on a daily basis.  

I have to admit that before the pandemic, I was not much into scrolling Artsy’s new suggestions and offers. I also wasn’t using Instagram much to discover artists nor doing studio visits on Zoom. I’ve always prefered (and will probably always prefer) the serendipitous encounter with an artist I meet in person and grow to like. 

Still, over the pandemic, I progressively learned to integrate both these realms, discovering a full range of possibilities, especially in terms of reducing distances and being able to check what’s going on different sides of the ocean, without taking a flight all the time. 

Having more free time, without the distractions of openings and events, may have helped. Still, I think that some of these innovations are here to stay post-pandemic. And, at least, they will help to better study, research, and double-check what is worth flying to see and acquire.

Elisa Carollo with works by Fabio Roncato and Luca Trevisani at “Italian Twist”, an exhibition she co-curated for Fondazione Imago Mundi, Treviso. Image by Marco Pavan.
Elisa Carollo with works by Fabio Roncato and Luca Trevisani at “Italian Twist”, an exhibition she co-curated for Fondazione Imago Mundi, Treviso. Image by Marco Pavan.

Elisa Carollo is an art advisor and USPAP-compliant ISA (International Society of Appraisers) member appraiser, with a special focus on XX century and contemporary art. She holds an MA in Art, Law and Business from Christie’s New York and a BA in Marketing and management of Cultural and Creative Industries from IULM University in Milan. To discover more from Carollo, follow her on LinkedIn and Instagram

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James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

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