2020 was a year of massive shifts in the international art world. The Covid-19 pandemic forced the art world online, and many galleries, artists and art businesses that weren’t able to ride this wave were left behind for good. Others, however, thrived by embracing trends and pivoting their programmes to connect with global audiences.

    Here’s a roundup of the most important tech trends to impact the art world this year.

    Online art fairs

    Without a doubt, the biggest trend this year was the emergence of the online art fair. Almost all of the world’s preeminent art fairs, including international giants Art Basel and Frieze, held online versions of their fairs instead of risky in-person events.  These initiatives were met with different levels of enthusiasm, and art-buying, on the whole, was down for 2020 (relative to 2019). But, in defiance of all expectations, some major sales were achieved, amounting to millions of Rands.


    VR and AR art experiences

    When you can’t get to an exhibition in person, the next best thing is to see it in virtual reality. Art world start-up Artland took off in 2020 bringing VR exhibitions to hundreds of galleries that had only ever been able to offer in-person experiences to audiences. In July 2020 they even launched the world’s first-ever virtual art fair, Untitled Art Online.

    The online viewing room

    Another response to the Covid-19 pandemic, so-called online viewing rooms replaced IRL exhibitions for thousands of galleries around the world. Many of these are essentially glorified websites, but some, like this one by local gallery Stevenson, used the format to stunning effect.


    Artsy started in 2014 as a sleepy online database for exploring and categorising contemporary art, but exploded in 2020 as the world’s leading algorithm-driven online art marketplace. Despite hefty fees for galleries to become vendors (upward of USD 1000 per month), even smaller South African galleries and project spaces have joined Artsy hoping to get in on an international online art buying frenzy. The fact that African contemporary art is experiencing a simultaneous boom means that the marketplace is a viable outlet for even the smallest of vendors.

    Free and open-source creative software

    Wallets took strain this year, as, yet again, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was felt the world over. For a long time artists, galleries, curators and other creatives have been heavily reliant on Adobe applications for everything from editing photographs to designing books to creating 3D animations. However, Adobe Creative Cloud, as the market-leading software package is called, really burns a hole in a cash-strapped pocket, coming in at over R1000 per month for access to the full Adobe Suite. This year saw an enormous uptick in subscriptions to free and open-source alternatives to Adobe apps, accompanied by vast improvements in the functionality of these apps. The biggest gains were seen by Pixlr, a cloud-based Photoshop alternative, and RawTherapee, an excellent open-source raw photo editor that works well as an alternative to Lightroom.

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    Anthea Kemp