Optimism Returns To Global Art Market – Study

Tom Burroughes Group Editor London 3 November 2022

Optimism Returns To Global Art Market – Study

An annual overview of the world's market for fine art and antiques, issued by Art Basel and supported by UBS, paints (excuse the pun) a relatively upbeat picture of the market. It also highlights how sustainability is an important consideration for buyers in terms of pricing and sourcing.

As the art world recovered after the pandemic, dealers and prospective buyers returned to art fairs to make deals, although a willingness to attend events still lagged levels seen in 2019, according to a report by Art Basel and UBS.

And the report, based on a survey of 2,700 collectors in 11 global markets, found that buyers boosted spending in the first half of this year, suggesting that the slide in global equity markets and worries about the economy did not dent art buyers’ enthusiasm. 

Most of the HNW collectors surveyed (78 per cent) were optimistic about the global art market’s performance over the next six months and were committed to supporting the market.

“The trade in art across national boundaries is central to the health of the commercial market but also an important means of cross-cultural communication and understanding,” Clare McAndrew, founder, Arts Economics, said.

The report, which in some ways sheds light on how high net worth individuals’ willingness to spend, has in recent years noted how forces such as Covid-19 influenced a shift to digital auctions, for example. But the latest report suggests that viewing art and antiques, and buying these items, is still very much a sociable activity. 

In 2022, 93 per cent of collectors surveyed bought art through a gallery or dealer, either directly, online, or via a fair. Art fairs have returned in earnest, with 74 per cent of the collectors surveyed purchasing at an art fair in 2022 (versus 54 per cent in 2021), including both in person and online-viewing-room purchases. Online spending remained strong and 95 per cent of the collectors surveyed had purchased works of art without viewing them in person first, with just over half (51 per cent) regularly doing so.

Global imports of art and antiques increased by 41 per cent in 2021 and exports were up 38 per cent, with double-digit increases continuing in the first half of 2022 versus the same period in 2021.

Spending increased in all markets, and the highest spending levels in the first half of 2022 were in France, mainland China, and Hong Kong. Across all markets the median expenditure of HNW collectors in the first six months of 2022 ($180,000) was higher than the entire year in 2021 ($164,000), with both surpassing averages in pre-pandemic 2019 (at $100,000). In addition to buying more, HNW collectors were also buying at higher prices, with the share regularly buying works priced at over $1 million doubling from 12 per cent in 2021 to 23 per cent in 2022.

The report, written by Dr Clare McAndrew, founder of Arts Economics, is based on markets in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, and Brazil.

The number of events attended stayed persistently lower than 2019 with a slight shift towards more local events. Collectors attended an average of 41 art-related events in 2019. This fell to 37 in 2022 (including those attended already and planned for the rest of the year). 

When people were asked if they plan to do more or less international travel for art-related experiences and events in the next 12 months, the responses showed a majority (77 per cent) wanting to travel more.

For those planning to travel less, the most important reason for cutting back was the remaining risks concerning Covid-19 (83 per cent), while 63 per cent felt it was important or very important to do so to help reduce their carbon footprint.

Inevitably, the sustainability issue is covered in the report. Some 77 per cent of those surveyed said they were considering sustainable options (up from 62 per cent in 2019). Some 98 per cent would be willing to opt for a sustainable option for the purchase and receipt of a work of art even if it was more expensive (versus 90 per cent in 2019). 

“In the context of the global economic outlook, it is encouraging to see the continued support of collectors for the art market. While A Survey of Global Collecting 2022 reported significant increased spending, surveyed HNW collectors are also changing how they engage with the art market – spending online is up, together with the desire to see art inperson, and collectors are willing to pay a premium for more sustainable practices,” Paul Donovan, UBS Global Wealth Management chief economist, said.

Nearly all collectors would pay an extra 5 per cent, and there was a considerable increase in the share of collectors willing to pay up to 25 per cent more (57 per cent in 2022 from 45 per cent in 2019). 

A majority of collectors considered it essential or a high priority over the next two years to engage in a range of sustainable practices including: only using digital catalogues, market reports and other pre-sale information rather than printed versions (76 per cent); purchasing sustainably produced works of art (76 per cent); using reusable or recyclable shipping and handling products (74 per cent); reducing or consolidating the transit and shipping of works of art (74 per cent); offsetting their carbon footprint from art-related travel (73 per cent); focusing on collecting and commissioning activities in a more localised community (73 per cent); and alternative delivery methods, such as sea or land versus air (71 per cent).

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