April, 2020 - The protagonists of the art market show optimism despite Covid-19 as they find new effective ways to survive By Alessandra Pugliese, freelance journalist

When Mariella Casile boarded the last flight connecting Italy to New York, little did she know that she would come face to face with a very long and “solitary quarantine”, as she calls it.

“I know it sounds crazy, but whether it is consulting for my Italian clients or preparing clips for my collectors, these days I am constantly at work so I don’t mind,” she says.

Ms Casile is a Manhattan-based art dealer and also a curator of six private collections located between Europe and South America. Like everybody else in her trade, she has to navigate the uncertainties brought by the coronavirus lockdowns across the world and the pandemic’s economic fallout.

According to Ms Casile, many collectors are using this “suspended time” to strengthen their knowledge and personal taste. “Some are already gathering information for possible investments to be made in the next six to twelve months. The markets have not stopped their activity,” she says.

At the end of March, Art Basel went digital for its Hong Kong Art Fair “Art Basel Online Viewing rooms”, offering VIP previews, virtual tours and openings.  Among the 235 galleries to take part in the event were Hauser and Wirth and Galleria Continua.

“Louise Bourgeois and George Condo were among our first exhibitions to go digital,” says Stefano Rabolli Pansera, Director of the Hauser and Wirth Galleries of London and St Moritz.

“Later this month we will unveil our first Virtual Reality exhibition model for the opening of the new Hauser and Wirth Center in Menorca”, he adds. “The relation with our collectors is very important to us and all these initiatives are a way to keep it alive.”

H&W donates ten percent of its profits from online exhibitions to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organisation, and just to give an idea, the George Condo drawings (sold out) were priced at $100,000 to $125,000.

“Having a gallery in Beijing we had already experienced COVID-19 in January, so when the virus hit Europe we already knew what had to be done,” explains Maurizio Rigillo, one of the three partners of the Tuscany-based Galleria Continua. “We first made sure our staff was safe, and then we began to find ways to sustain the efforts to fight COVID-19. We asked our artists to donate one of their works, and the response turned out to be very good.”

When asked about the near future, Mr Rigillo replied “Until people are not able to travel, I believe that the distribution will only be at a local level. International art fairs will probably come to a temporary stop. It will be difficult for fairs, for big art shows such as the Venice Biennale. They will in part go digital. With that in mind we are thinking about organizing temporary exhibitions. As of now we are in close contact with our collectors and with our artists.”

Galleria Continua will reopen the Beijing gallery in May.

“I don’t see a market problem. The antiques and art market is counter-cyclical, there will always be a market,” says Guido Wannenes, owner of the auction house that carries his family name.

“Auctions have only moved online, but the online was already in use before COVID-19. The real problem for us is when our lots will all be sold and our storages will be empty, what will we auction if we cannot travel to go in search of paintings, furniture, jewels? I  may be able to read a painting online but jewels require to be seen in person,” he says.

Flaminia Gennari Santori, Director of the Barberini and Corsini National Galleries in Rome, hopes  to be able to reopen the two museums in June.

“We have a strong online presence and four exhibitions ready for the reopening.,” she says. “At the beginning we might have less visitors but I am sure that people will return. We are ready”.

  1. © Alessandra Pugliese

    © Alessandra Pugliese