The Pandemic Hasn´t Affected the Appetite of Czech Collectors

14 April 2021

The Pandemic Hasn´t Affected the Appetite of Czech Collectors

Repeated closures of exhibitions and galleries last year also significantly affected the Czech art market. Several auctions were postponed or cancelled, and the importance of online auctions unsurprisingly increased. On the other hand, there is no indication that there have been significant shifts in the appetite of bidders or sellers.

Based on data collected by ART+, the auction sales in 2020 amounted to 1.01 billion crowns of which 137 artworks were sold for over a million. Estimated sales of online and other live auctions is at 200 million crowns, which means that another 14 paintings were auctioned for over a million crowns. In a year-on-year comparison, the total sales of the monitored auctions decreased by 27 percent, which roughly corresponds to the level at which the art market was five years ago. However, this decline appears to be primarily the result of a spring outage, rather than some systemic changes.

Despite the overall art market decline, the total cost of ten most expensive paintings was higher than ever before. To buy them all, a potential bidder would need 340 million crowns. Although the interest in post-war and contemporary art is growing, auction results are still driven by a few big names of Czech modern art. The five best-selling authors - František Kupka, Toyen, Jan Zrzavý, Emil Fill and Josef Šíma - account for almost 40 percent of last year's sales.

The growing number of resales suggests that high-value artworks new to the market are becoming increasingly scarce. Half of the works in the top ten have already passed through the market once, even in the last ten years.

When the financial crisis caused by the collapse of the mortgage bubble in the United States hit the world in 2009, the Czech art market benefited from the uncertainty at the time. A number of new buyers entered the market and art clearly functioned as an alternative investment tool. The total sales increased by 13.5 percent year-on-year to the then record 751 million crowns.

The sources of current uncertainty are different, stock markets are doing well, and the art market itself is much more developed today than it was twelve years ago. From the experience of that time, however, it can be deduced at least that the crisis does not necessarily have to be negative for the art market. The key question therefore remains whether the auction houses will be able to obtain enough quality works.

Art historian Jan Skřivánek is the head of Artantiques media, a publishing company of the Art&Antiques magazine and auction results database ART+. He has also been the editor-in-chief of annual Czech art market report since 2009/2010. Jan Skřivánek lectures on the EDUART START programme.