Predictions for the Art World in 2021

The Future of the Art World - Comments from London-based art investor, Olyvia Kwok

As has been the case for the majority of creative industries in recent times, the art market has certainly had its difficulties in the last twelve months. According to a recent report from Art Basel and UBS, sales at commercial galleries specializing in modern and contemporary art fell by an average of 36 percent during the first half of 2020.

The market has managed to stay afloat, though, remotely; with more people looking to add to or refresh their collections while spending more time at home due to the pandemic, amongst other factors. Although physical access to galleries and auctions will likely remain restricted for most of the year, there is plenty of cause for optimism for the art world in 2021. We spoke to renowned art investor Olyvia Kwok to find out her predictions for the year ahead based on her observations of an unprecedented 2020.

Headed for a Resurgence

While the art world has seen big changes in terms of operating without face-to-face contact, Olyvia predicts that the market will soon return to normal levels of growth, with the impact of the pandemic and political uncertainty resembling a ‘pause’ rather than a sustained downturn in trade.

“The art market is like the stock market. It’s had a steady growth in the last 2-3 years, but now it’s reacting to all the recent uncertainties, i.e., COVID, Brexit, the US elections,” says Olyvia. “Overall, the market is fine - it has had a little pause. But as soon as America is OK to go - when the presidential election is over - then the market will act accordingly.”

The growth of the market will likely come from the utilisation of digital platforms for exhibition and collaboration, providing artists and investors with an opportunity to create and maintain close connections with the rest of the art world from home.

Pop Art Will Explode

Younger consumers look set to drive forward the re-emergence of pop art in the coming year, Olyvia says.

“Phillips had an evening auction of what I call ‘short and sweet’ last week,” commented Olyvia, “All the art was fairly lower value; young, hip, trendy, pop culture, which I think is one of the biggest and fastest growing markets right now.”

With its origins dating back to the 1950s, pop art is most associated with artists such as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. The vibrant, colourful style, which reflects popular culture from across the decades, continues to grow in popularity with younger audiences around the world; a trend that looks set to continue in 2021.

Virtual Auctions Will Be The New Norm

Like most industries, the global art market has been forced to adapt to restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic and move the majority of its business online. While it may be argued that online gallery experiences and auctions are lacking a personal touch, they have also opened the door for artists to share their work with audiences across the world.

Olyvia predicts that remote auctions will help to restore consumer confidence in the market, which may have been damaged by the outbreak of Covid-19. 

So, you can use Zoom, FaceTime or even specially designed apps to bid if you can’t be there in person. This will help ‘consumer market confidence’ to return, especially after the summer.”

We Will See Greater Diversity, Equality and Representation in the Art World

Issues of diversity, systemic racism and representation came to the fore in 2020 after the tragic death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in the United States. The Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum ever since and there can be no doubt that the push for equality in all walks of life has intensified as a result. 

In the art world, several high-profile museums have developed plans to diversify their workforces, create long-term partnerships with Black arts organisations and complete regular audits to ensure better representation going forward. 

Olyvia herself has a history of highlighting diversity within the art world, having hosted a popular exhibition in New York in 2019 to celebrate the combined works of African-American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and pop artist Andy Warhol. Issues of race will continue to be highlighted in 2021 as the art world in general looks to improve its inclusivity across the board.


If the last year has taught us anything, it is that the need to express ourselves is greater than ever. Art provides an invaluable escape from the isolation and social and political division we are all experiencing in some way today. Although the art world has faced many challenges in the last twelve months, it has adapted well to the situation and the future is as promising as it has ever been, for artists and investors alike.