Melanie Gerlis is Art market columnist for the Financial Times; Editor at large at The Art Newspaper and Author of “Art as an investment?”
What have you been doing during lockdown?
I’m glad to say I’ve been working – which isn’t a given as a freelance arts writer. Much of my work for the Financial Times and The Art Newspaper has centred around art fairs and live auctions for the past 15 years, so I wasn’t sure that there would be anything to write about, but luckily galleries, auction houses and even fairs are finding ways to function through the crisis. I have always worked from home (when not travelling) so am glad I was already set up with decent wifi and a printer. What has taken some adjustment are the three new little colleagues – namely my primary school age children – which has been the biggest personal challenge.
Is there anything in particular you have learned from the last few months?
I’ve definitely learnt that I travelled too much before, for my own sanity, and that only a surprisingly limited amount of this is necessary to what I do. I’m also someone who plans every detail of my day and the very sudden impact of Covid-19 has taught me that it doesn’t matter so much if plans change or disappear, we can’t control the unpredictability of life. I really hope to have more balance mentally and physically as we begin to come out of this.
How do you think the art industry will change, going forward?
The constraints on travel and big events have forced a lot of businesses to rethink and I am certain that the hastening towards doing more business online is not just a Covid blip. The art market will survive, in a more hybrid form, but there will of course be businesses, artists and other freelancers who simply won’t be able to function anymore as a direct result of the lockdown, so I think for a while we will be much poorer for it.
Do you have any advice that you would give to people entering the industry?
If you are entering the art world at this time of great change, there could be huge opportunities for people who understand the power of social media and virtual tools for selling. I would definitely recommend being an expert in these areas as most of us already in the art world have a very old fashioned, traditional set of skills – and it will take us longer to break the patterns.
Are there any art organisations that you have been particularly impressed by in the way that they have evolved and responded to the current situation?
There have been some notable successes for the auction houses – who have sold hundreds of millions of dollars of art publicly in recent weeks – but I’m mostly impressed by the smaller galleries, who have less money to throw at the situation but have been truly creative. They tend not to have a big staff to support, so have been able to keep themselves relevant, largely on social media as well as through fusing what they do with other digitally native arts, such as music and video. These have produced much more engaging material than, say, an online art fair.