Viewpoint: The fine art market stands at the threshold of technological revolution
The coming changes will have implications for private collectors, public institutions and service providers to the market, such as insurers
Whether it is the internet of things incorporated into art maintenance, exhibitions held in the metaverse or authenticity certificates on the blockchain, the insurance industry needs to plan for and adapt to a future that looks very unlike the analogue fine art world of the past
The art world is no stranger to change.
Whether it is the discovery of new media or a radical shift in style, each step in the history of fine art has inspired new admirers and detractors.
Now, the fine art market stands at the threshold of another revolution. A technological shift is coming. There will be myriad changes, large and small, in how the art world will function in the coming decades.
Whether it is elements of the internet of things (IoT)incorporated into art maintenance, exhibitions held in the metaverse or authenticity certificates on the blockchain, we need to plan for and adapt to a future that looks very unlike the analogue fine art world of the past.
The coming change is as or more significant than the artistic discoveries of the Quattrocento. It will have implications for a range of institutions, whether private collectors, public institutions or service providers to the market such as insurers.
The huge range of changes will have various effects on the fine art landscape. Here, I intend to sketch the outlines of several consequential issues to our broker partners and clients.
Underwriters are used to relying on data to price and select risks and renew contracts. Fine art teams are no different, but future technology is going to allow us to gather far more data, of better quality, than ever before.
Elements of the IoT are set to become vital tools: by locating an environmental monitor in the frame of a painting, for example, we will be able to measure the suitability of the surroundings in real time. With the frame itself broadcasting information about temperature, humidity, lighting or exposure, we can prevent or mitigate damage before any serious effects occur. Similar monitors can be in the plinth of a statue or even in crates for transport.
By connecting artworks, their surroundings and exhibition spaces into our live models, we can better adjust, measure and mitigate risk to priceless artefacts. In the future, this may reduce the need for underwriters to travel too: a camera or virtual reality tour of a space may suffice to judge its security and appropriateness when combined with ongoing real-time environmental monitoring.
This will provide security to insureds, reassure underwriters and aid risk selection. It will also enable more efficient processing of any claims, to the advantage of all parties in the value chain.
Art forgers should also be wary of the impact of technology. While many things have already been written about the rise and fall of cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), the underlying technology – a distributed ledger – has the potential to revolutionise certificates of authenticity.
At present, physical certificates, issued once or at intervals a while apart, are vulnerable. A blockchain-based digital certificate, revalidated at every significant stage of an artwork’s journey and immune from outside interference by virtue of its distribution across the chain, will not be. With real-time monitoring, that data can be paired with photography or environmental reporting, almost eliminating the potential for fraud.
Institutions will adopt this and similar technological solutions to ensure the priceless pieces in their collections, if on loan, for example, remain secure. And underwriters will, I suspect, want to encourage the implementation of this technology in the art world through pricing and risk selection.
Digital art marketplace
Finally, the very process of trading fine art has already shifted dramatically. Artworks, antiques and collectibles are increasingly traded online, a trend accelerated by the pandemic. While online transactions represented around 10% of the global art market value before the pandemic, by 2021 sales of the online art and antiques market peaked at $13.3bn, accounting for roughly one-fifth of the total art market value.
This presents its own risks. Forgeries are more likely without digital authenticity certificates and online sales increase uncertainty across a range of factors including transport. Cyber exposures are set to grow, with exchanges and online marketplaces targeted. Payment of large sums will need to be secured.
Some have suggested future exhibitions and art fairs will take place at least in part in the metaverse; that carries its own additional cyber and intellectual property risks. But there is no stopping the digitalising of the fine art and specie market; and technology provides us with the tools to protect it.
The consequences of such a huge range of changes are vast and disparate, and will affect the entire art world. But it is a resilient marketplace. With forethought and consideration, we can implement the promise of technology to the benefit of all stakeholders in the market. This is just a sketch of the future; time will fill in the details.
David Saillen is head of fine art and specie, continental Europe at Liberty Specialty Markets