Global Art Market Shrinks by Almost a Quarter

29 March 2021

Global Art Market Shrinks by Almost a Quarter

The latest Art Market report published by Art Basel and UBS reveals 22 percent drop in 2020 sales of art and antiques to $50.1 billion. The international market has seen a return to a level between 2009 and 2010, the years of the last major recession. However, the situation is much better than expected at the beginning of the pandemic. Online sales, a growing pool of wealthy individuals and reduced overheads all helped sustain the trade when physical art fairs and auctions disappeared.

It is not surprising that online sales doubled in value from 2019 to 2020, reaching a quarter of overall transactions. The magic word of 2020 was by no doubt the online viewing room (OVR), but according to the survey, sales via these websites accounted only for 9% of dealers´ income. The aggregate dealer sales by value declined by 20%. In recent years, art fairs accounted for nearly 50% of dealers’ annual sales, whereas in 2020 that figure declined dramatically to just 13%. Of 365 fairs planned globally for 2020, 61% were cancelled. On the other hand, galleries saved costs associated with participating in art fairs so some of them managed to remain profitable.

According to 66% of surveyed collectors, the pandemic had increased their interest in collecting. The report suggests that there exists a social drive among wealthy collectors to buy art as a way to show support of the cultural sector.

Global public auction figures saw a 30% overall drop. This decline was widely anticipated because of pandemic closures and is mainly attributable to contracting supply and cancelled sales, not a collapse of demand. In 2020, the largest sector in the fine art public auction market by value was again Post-War and Contemporary art, which along with Modern art accounted for just over 81% of the value of sales at fine art auctions.

According to the author of the report, art economist Dr. Clare McAndrew, the fall in sales was inevitable. “But the crisis also provided the impetus for change and restructuring, the most fundamental shift being the rollout of digital strategies and online sales.” As the art world continues to be radically reshaped by the pandemic, other trends are emerging. One of the latest examples is the NFTs (non-fungible tokens) frenzy. McAndrew admits that the amount of money now being turned over via other platforms beyond the traditional art market is enormous.