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Global Art Market Bounces Back From Pandemic, Online Share Squeezed

Tom Burroughes

4 April 2023

The global art market exceeded pre-pandemic levels in 2022, logging 3 per cent year-on-year growth in global art sales reaching an estimated $67.8 billion, according to an annual study by .

The sharpest bounce-back in the art market happened in the US, with the UK in second place, overtaking China (a country that only started to come out of tough anti-pandemic measures last year).

The fine art market is often a barometer for how willing high net worth individuals are to spend money. At times, it is also seen as a way of hedging inflation risks – a topical point with price pressures running high.

The seventh edition of The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report is written by cultural economist Dr Clare McAndrew, founder of Arts Economics, and  published by Art Basel and UBS.

Looking ahead, 77 per cent of high net worth collectors surveyed by Art Economics and UBS in 2022 were positive about the outlook for the global art market, and a majority (55 per cent) plans to buy art in 2023. 

“The global art market proved its resilience. In the context of the global economy, 2023 will be a year of inflections as we navigate turning points for inflation, interest rates, economic growth, and financial markets all up against a complex global geopolitical backdrop,” Paul Donovan, chief economist at UBS Global Wealth Management, said. 

US lead
The US market retained its leading position in the global art market with its share of sales by value increasing by 2 per cent year-on-year to 45 per cent. The UK market moved back into the second place with 18 per cent of sales, followed by the Chinese market, whose share fell by 3 per cent to 17 per cent. The US has seen one of the most robust recoveries from the pandemic of all the major art markets, with sales recording an 8 per cent uplift year-on-year to their highest-ever level of $30.2 billion.

The UK recorded a rise to $11.9 billion, up 5 per cent from 2021 but below the pre-pandemic level in 2019 of $12.2 billion.

After a strong recovery in 2021, mainland China and Hong Kong reported a “challenging year” in 2022 with a steep decline in sales of 14 per cent year-on-year, the report said. At $11.2 billion, sales in the region were still 13 per cent above 2020, but at their second-lowest level since 2009.

Sales channels
Dealer sales reached an estimated $37.2 billion in 2022, a 7 per cent increase year-on-year, restoring the market to its value before the pandemic in 2019. Surveys of the sector revealed that dealers with the highest turnovers of over $10 million saw some of the largest increases in average sales (at 19 per cent).

There were “strong sales” in the auction sector last year. However, away from headlines sales figures, momentum was “much more subdued,” the report said. Total sales conducted by auction houses, including both public and private sales, were estimated to be down by 2 per cent at $30.6 billion from $31.2 billion in 2021, but still 11 per cent higher than pre-pandemic 2019.

In 2022, fairs ran on much fuller schedules as market conditions normalised. Collectors began to reengage with live events, and galleries returned to exhibiting at the same number of fairs as they had in 2019 on average. Sales at art fairs rose from 27 per cent of total dealers’ sales in 2021 to 35 per cent in 2022, though still below pre-pandemic levels (42 per cent in 2019).

Online sales lose after pandemic
The report noted that as the event-driven market resumed its more regular schedule in 2022, both dealers and auction houses reported a further reduction in the share of their sales accounted for by e-commerce in 2022. Following two years of unprecedented growth, online-only sales fell to $11 billion in 2022, a 17 per cent decline year-on-year from their peak of $13.3 billion in 2021, although still 85 per cent higher than in 2019.

Among other details, the report said that having a low share of representation of female artists correlated with lower year-on-year sales growth performance for galleries, while those with a share of over 80 per cent had higher than average growth of 21 per cent.