Fashion

When COVID-19 first hit, Gold Coast artist Tania Blanchard thought the bottom might drop out of the art market. Thankfully her worries were way off the mark.

Artist Tania Blanchard had just finished building a new home studio when COVID-19 hit and, as the economy plunged into recession, she began to feel nervous. 
Key points:

  • Auction houses say art sales have doubled since COVID-19 hit
  • An increasing number of investors are choosing art over property
  • New art gallery HOTA, on the Gold Coast, has welcomed 28,000 visitors in its first month

I was really worried that I wouldn’t be busy and people wouldn’t be able to afford art,” Ms Blanchard said. 
But her concerns were short-lived.
With people spending more time at home, embarking on renovations and unable to book overseas holidays she witnessed a COVID-inspired renaissance.  
Cashed-up art lovers opened their pandemic purses and started spending big. 
Suddenly, I just became really busy,” Ms Blanchard said.
“It was a really crazy time.”
Singer Amy Shark recently purchased a Tania Blanchard painting.(Supplied: Tania Blanchard
)
Ms Blanchard recorded a significant increase in the number of requests for valuable commissions.
“The commissions that I was doing … most of them were large artwork,” she said. 
“People were willing to spend that money.
“They thought, ‘OK we’ll invest in the art that we’ve been wanting for a while.” 
Picasso or property?
Charles Ninow, the head of art at auction house Webb’s, says there has been a dramatic increase in art sales. (Supplied: Charles Ninow 
)
According to New Zealand auction house Webb’s, a growing number of investors are choosing art over property, as the real estate market continues to soar.
Head of art Charles Ninow said buyers were increasingly looking for alternative investment opportunities. 
He said art sales at Webb’s had doubled in recent months as people looked to diversify.
“I think that people can see that the property market is incredibly hot, I think they can see that the share market is incredibly hot,” he said.
“In the age of very, very, very low interest rates, people are looking to other things to put their money into.
“We’ve dramatically increased the amount of business we’re doing.”
Auction houses say there’s been a resurgence of interest in art. (Supplied: Charles Ninow
)
Mr Ninow said while the art market hadn’t kept pace with the steep rise in property prices over the past 50 years, it wasn’t too far behind and was still an attractive option for investors.
“If you put into the share market and put into Bitcoin, anything like that, you’re really betting on an idea and if that market goes down, the money is gone,” he said.
“But with an artwork, you actually have a real physical thing.
“You don’t have to pay tax on it when you resell it and prices do not go backwards for art.
“What other things can you buy that gives you a cultural experience, something you enjoy that also goes up in value  I mean, it’s quite unique.” 
‘Great art does appreciate’  
Smith & Singer recently sold Fred Williams painting, Guthega Landscape (1975) for $1.2 million.(Supplied: Smith & Singer
)
Auction house Smith & Singer, formerly known as Sotheby’s, conducts regular art auctions in Melbourne and Sydney and has also experienced a spike in activity.
CEO Gary Singer said travel restrictions meant art lovers had money to spend on other interests.
“People are engaging with us more than they were pre-COVID,” Mr Singer said.
“They’re willing to engage because they’re not spending money on other things like travel, not going out to restaurants as much and not shopping as much.”
Mr Singer said the majority of his buyers were motivated by a personal or emotional connection to artwork, rather than by a particular asset class.
“It’s a by-product of their passion and their interest because great art does appreciate,” he said.
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“People really need to have an interest in it, to decide to buy it and look after it and enjoy it in the meantime.”
He said people who bought significant works of art generally also had other investments.
“They’re just deciding to maybe buy an investment or something that gives them pleasure, at the same time.”
New gallery attracts huge crowd
The $60.5 million HOTA Gallery is now Australia’s largest regional art gallery. (Supplied: HOTA
)
Australia’s newest art destination is the $60.5 million HOTA gallery on the Gold Coast.
Since it opened four weeks ago, it has attracted an overwhelming number of patrons.
CEO Criena Gerkhe said 28,000 people had visited the gallery since its May 8 opening.
 “There’s no doubt that we’re hitting above and beyond what we’d expected,” Ms Gerhke said.
“We were expecting a lot of interest but that has just really blown us away.
“So there’s definitely something in the air.
“People are craving this connection with arts and culture.
“People have been in lockdown, you know, and they haven’t had the opportunity to have that human connection.”
Burleigh Heads artist Tania Blanchard with works from her latest series, Gravitation.(Supplied: Tania Blanchard
)
For artist Tania Blanchard it’s a connection that transcends state and international borders. 
“I sell a lot of my art interstate and overseas,” Ms Blanchard said.
“I just sold two paintings to Barcelona and I’ve just got a commission for someone in Germany.
“It’s an absolute blessing, I just don’t take it for granted for one second. I just love what I do.”