Do Digital Sales Scare Away Older Collectors? | Pandemic Trends in Art News

Do digital sales scare away older collectors?

Do digital sales scare away older collectors? And might they be key for encouraging Millenials to become the next generation of art buyers?

With the recent changes brought on by the pandemic, art galleries have worked hard to engage their clients online. This includes Xanadu Gallery, as Jason has mentioned previously.

Contrary to popular opinion, people don’t necessarily need to see art in person to make a purchase, and art sales do happen online. But who buys art online?

Recently I came across an article from The New York Times about the challenges the international art market has been facing due to COVID-19-related cancellations. The article and others I’ve found suggest that willingness to purchase art online may have observable generational patterns.

Hesitation from Established Older Collectors

In the article, the New York Times delves into the “generation gap” that may exist in online art collecting. Trade reports and interviews with prominent collectors paint interesting pictures of the online art market.

Many collectors have been able to purchase work they love online. However, the article suggests that a lot of older collectors might hesitate to adapt their acquiring habits. As a result, a number of them have been opting to wait until they can experience art in person again.

Because the majority of art collectors are Baby Boomers, who tend to be less comfortable with the idea of digital art purchases, the art market has suffered during pandemic shutdowns. But, as Jason has observed from his experience, it hasn’t halted. For Xanadu, that’s largely due to established relationships with collectors. For the art world as a whole, the emergence of younger collectors who are more likely to make online purchases has been an important factor.

Catering to Younger Buyers

Younger generations (particularly Millennials) are much more likely to buy art online. They have continued to do so even during the pandemic and accompanying economic turbulence.

While the experience element is still important to them, these generations tend to be more comfortable navigating the digital world, and their desire to discover artists, especially new talent, motivates them to seek out art online, according to Artpiq.

These are definitely interesting trends to consider at this time when we are just coming out of pandemic-related lockdowns. Baby Boomers may still be the biggest collectors, but they are increasingly being replaced in the workforce by members of younger generations. What will be the best way to reach new audiences? It looks like online marketing might become increasingly viable.

About the Author: Mara Blackwood

Mara Blackwood is the executive editor of RedDotBlog


  1. This is interesting, but perhaps you should interview a representative collector for your categories. I think you will find some important omissions. First, we are quite alone now. We have not suffered income or asset loss, so we cannot feel outwardly condfident in the face of the realities of others. And yet, we have also lost social engagement. Second, unlike millenials, the mature collector knows what he or she wants to buy, so, they need the backstory on the work, provenance, condition, artist context. We also tend to collect works created from time periods that have to be accounted for, so the gallerist or dealer has to be prepared with registries, Lugt, galleries, auction history,
    and other inventories. We often know more than the gallerist about what we are looking at. I have found new dealers in denial or even contemptuous of this. Dealers never feel comfortable allowing collectors to meet eachother, but collectors don’t mind. A collectors forum is somewhat interesting when it happens spontaneously like at an art opening special event–we feel united in our feelings without giving details and identities.
    That is of little interest to younger gallerists who are interested in quick impersonal purchases. I think mentoring programs for gallerists and art dealers would significantly help them through the tough times when survival demands incremental sales approaches.

    1. Great points. There are definitely a lot of advantages for serious collectors who purchase art in person, and a lot of the reason that younger art buyers are more willing to purchase online may be because they’re newer to the art scene and tend to purchase from a lot of up-and-coming artists, so issues like provenance may not be as much of a concern.

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