While some businesses have suffered throughout the pandemic, the art world is benefitting from robust sales.
Galleries like Vail International Gallery had a good season leading up to COVID in 2019, but it’s been doing even better since opening back up from COVID shutdowns. Raitman Art Galleries’ sales have increased more than 50%.
“It’s not just us, even though we’ve made a lot of changes,” said Raitman Art Galleries’ co-owner Brian Raitman, talking about how the gallery expanded into a neighboring space just before the pandemic hit in February 2020 to feature new artists. “I’m hearing it across the art world. Sales have been massive. We went from sheer panic to dominating the market.”
While art dealers are used to booms and busts, this one was different.
“There was the dot-com bust in 2001 and the 2008 (recession), but the COVID bust was different,” said Marc LeVarn, co-owner of Vail International Gallery. “It was a much more rapid cycle. Some people haven’t recovered — and that’s not something to make light of — but basically, you had a crash and then an almost immediate recovery. The cycle was fast and hot.”
What’s driving sales
A number of variables play into the increased sales, including: people spending more time in their homes (and working from them), an influx of people moving to the mountains and the strong stock market.
“Spending so much time at home gave us a chance to reflect on what matters, who we spend time with and what we surround ourselves with,” Raitman said. “In a time when we can’t control much regarding politics, the virus and the environment, we can focus on things we can control, like what we think, hear and see. We can be mindful of what we can surround ourselves with. Surrounding ourselves with beauty is important. I love that art can transport you to a different place that you can enjoy.”
During the height of the pandemic, home became a safe refuge, and people wanted to make their homes an even more comfortable and beautiful sanctuary.
“It shifted things permanently, that home is their solace,” Raitman said.
New groups of people are moving to the mountains from not just traditional regions like Texas, but also everywhere from California to Florida, and they’re buying art for their homes.
“It has changed the demographic of the Vail Valley and surrounding areas,” LeVarn said. “They’re buying different kinds of art. Tech savvy pros are working remotely, and they’re different; it’s not for their vacation home; it’s lifestyle driven.”
More and more clients from the Front Range are also coming to mountain galleries to purchase art, because they’re spending more time enjoying all the recreational opportunities the mountains provide.
“They’re more integrated into the culture up here, and they’re shopping,” he said.
Even people who wouldn’t normally walk into galleries are buying art from them, including millennials, who hadn’t made up a large portion of art collectors previously, but now, as they settle into their own homes, are buying more contemporary art.
“People want that story, that human touch, the heart and soul of what artists create,” Raitman said. “It’s a thread that connects people to others without physical touch, versus art from big box stores. They’re seeking quality and something that’s unique, distinctly their own. Print sales have struggled because people want something that’s one-of-a-kind, truly their own.”
Art as connection
Clients are paying more attention to collecting art that holds meaning, said Mark Kihle of Knox Galleries.
“There’s a greater emphasis on art that they can relate to, because people realize how short life can be, that you don’t know what life will bring. They see how precious life is,” Kihle said.
Artists who depict nature and wildlife, like Edward “Ned” Aldrich, are some of the most popular these days.
“His paintings sell almost as quickly as we can get them,” Kihle said. “Wildlife, aspen landscapes, nature (pieces) is what we mainly sell.”
During the pandemic, many people turned to nature for peace and realized its transformative power.
“They want to bring the feeling of adventure, escape and solace that we find in nature into their homes,” Raitman said. “People have gone through really dark times throughout history, and when the world goes dark, art is such a beacon of light and a testament to human resilience. Art gives us a sense of humanity. Art constantly connects us to others, and to the beautiful things on this planet.”