The findings of the latest UBS Art Basel report, authored by cultural economist Clare McAndrew, will not entirely surprise industry watchers who have seen art sales boom over the past two years, defying forecasts by a pandemic crash.
Even as the shutdown began, from March 2020, private and online sales were robust by any measure as wealthy homebound collectors splurged on new works. Auction houses not only thrived on private sales, but quickly pivoted to continue selling at least a few seven- and eight-figure masterpieces in globally broadcast hybrid auctions, sometimes jumping even from one world artistic center to another during a single evening.
The 2022 edition of the report, released today (29 March), is the sixth in a series. The general theme is a “strong market recovery with return to direct sales and events, while online sales continued to grow,” according to a summary of the report.
“The art market has demonstrated incredible resilience in 2021, with a strong increase in overall sales, despite under very difficult conditions,” McAndrew said in a statement. “Dealers and auction houses have successfully adapted to a new two-tier system of online and offline sales and events.”
In fact, the market was “two-tiered” in more ways than one, with the new situation also accelerating existing inequalities.
“We have seen that the break in schedules and the digital shift have done little to restructure market hierarchies, and the high end has started to drift away again, with an even denser concentration of value on a small number of ‘artists and businesses.’ McAndrew continued.
Along with the usual auction, dealer and leader sales breakdowns by region, McAndrew is also looking at NFTs (non-fungible tokens) for the first time and, using additional research, presents the results of a High Net Worth Collector Behaviors (HNW) survey (the survey was conducted by McAndrew and his firm Arts Economics in conjunction with UBS Investor Watch). A surprisingly high percentage of HNW collectors said they purchased NFTs, but the average value was relatively modest.
Here are seven key findings from the report.
1) The market has not only recovered, it has grown
After the biggest drop in sales in a decade in 2020, the global art market rebounded in 2021, with overall sales of art and antiques up 29% to around $65.1 billion. , surpassing pre-pandemic levels.
The US market maintained its leading position and grew slightly based on global sales value, accounting for 43%. The Chinese market was the second largest with 20% of global sales by value. Meanwhile, the UK has fallen back to third place with 17% of global sales by value.
The 2021 U.S. sales rebound was particularly robust, with sales rising 33% to just over $28 billion. Although it lost ground to China, where sales rose 35% to $13.4 billion, the UK market also rose after two years of decline, to $11.3 billion. , a jump of 14%.
France also saw a strong rise in 2021, with sales up 30%. In value, the French increase was 50% with a reported total of $4.7 billion, the highest in ten years for France.
2) Concessionaires reclaimed lost ground
The picture was also brighter for dealers. After a 20% decline in 2020, total sales reached approximately $34.7 billion in 2021, growing 18% year-over-year. Yet they remained below the 2019 level.
Among all dealers, a majority (61%) reported an increase in sales year-on-year from 2020, while 13% were stable and just over a quarter (26%) experienced a decline.
Note: the largest increase in year-over-year values was recorded in the high-end reseller segment, those with sales between $5 and $10 million (35%), while smaller dealers (with less than $250,000) had the smallest gains (six percent).
However, among all dealers, 55% were more profitable than in 2020, 21% were about the same and 24% were less profitable.
3) Auctions Really Bounced
At the same time, public auctions of works of art and antiques reached approximately $26.3 billion in 2021, an increase of 47% over 2020. This was driven by the supply of high-quality works coming to market, as well as an influx of new buyers.
4) NFTs shook the market
In addition to the global art market revenue of $65.1 billion, NFT sales exploded on NFT platforms. The value of sales for art-related NFTs outside the art market has increased more than 100 times in 2021 year-on-year, reaching $2.6 billion, with even greater growth in collectibles, which reached $8.6 billion.
The volume of transactions on these external NFT platforms has also increased rapidly, rising from just over 755,760 in 2019 to 5.5 million, with heavily collectibles dominant sales (85% of transactions in 2021). In 2021, 74% of HNW collectors surveyed by Arts Economics and UBS Investor Watch had bought art-based NFTs, with a median spend in the category totaling $9,000 each.
NFT sales have also entered the traditional art market auction sector in 2021. Christie’s NFT sales totaled $150 million, including the historic sale of Beeple’s Daily: first 5,000 days (2021) for $69.3 million in March. Sotheby’s NFT sales, meanwhile, reached $80 million in 2021.
The digital art boom has also been the most effective way to attract young people and new buyers, with 78 percent of NFT bidders are new to Sotheby’s and more than half them under 40 years old.
5) Online sales continue to grow, but not as fast
The online market continued to expand, growing more moderated by seven percent in 2021 and reaching around $13.3 billion. The share represented by online sales in 2021 was 20% of total sales, down 5% year-on-year, but still more than double the level of 2019, which was 19%.
Marc Spiegler, Global Head of Art Basel, commented: “As expected, the share of online art sales fell in 2021 as in-person sales rebounded, but the total value of online sales rose again. increase. Clearly, the art world e-commerce is here to stay.
6) The picture of art fairs remains mixed
In 2021, as the fair calendar resumes, even with a reduced number of fairs and limited capacity in some, art fair sales have increased to 29% of gallery sales (which includes sales in online viewing rooms), up 7% in share year over year, but still far from the 43% of dealer sales reported in 2019. With the slow return to the full schedule of events and continued focus on cost, the number of art fairs at which dealers exhibited in 2021 was still below pre-pandemic levels.
However, going forward, the majority of dealers surveyed (65%) predicted that their sales at art fairs increase over the next 12 months, 11% were unsure and only 9% expected a decline. This latest data point may come as a surprise given the number of dealers who said they would pull out of art fairs after sales remained strong without physical attendance during the lockdown period. However, this may reflect renewed demand and interest in IRL events for dealers as the art world continues to emerge from the pandemic.
7) Big collectors are in the mood to spend
Based on surveys of more than 2,300 affluent collectors in ten markets, the UBS Art Basel report revealed a increased spending to high levels in 2021. Collectors reported having bought more art and antiques in 2021 on average than in 2019 or 2020.
Looking ahead to the next 12 months, the majority of affluent collectors (53%) said they plan to buy art in 2022. interest in digital art is also evident, especially among young collectors, since more than half of HNW collectors surveyed (56 percent) said they were interested in buying digital art this year, with the highest percentage being among millennial collectors (61%).
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