The Art Market 2022 reveals strong recovery of the market with return to live sales and events, while online sales continued to grow
The sixth edition of The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report is now available. Written by renowned cultural economist Dr. Clare McAndrew, founder of Arts Economics, and published by Art Basel and UBS, The Art Market 2022 presents the results of a comprehensive and macro-level analysis of the global art market in 2021, including a survey examining the behaviors of high net worth (HNW) collectors, conducted by Arts Economics and UBS Investor Watch. The report looks at the continued and varied effects of the global pandemic on various sectors of the art market last year. It also delves deeper into the topic NFTs for the first time and outlines the trends and outlook for 2022. The full report is free to download on the Art Basel and UBS websites.
Key findings of The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report include:
Global Sales: Following its biggest fall in sales in 10 years in 2020, the global art market recovered strongly in 2021, with aggregate sales of art and antiques by dealers and auction houses reaching an estimated $65.1 billion, up 29% from 2020, with values also surpassing pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
Leading Markets: The US market retained its leading position, shifting up slightly to 43% of worldwide sales by value. The Chinese art market was the second largest art market with 20%, while the UK slipped back to third place and 17%. The US art market recovered robustly in 2021, with sales increasing by 33% to just over $28.0 billion. Sales in Greater China also saw a significant uplift of 35% reaching $13.4 billion and pushing ahead of the UK market in the global ranks. Following two years of declining sales in 2019 and 2020, the UK market increased in value by 14% year-on-year to $11.3 billion in 2021. After a drop of over 30% in 2020, sales in France had a particularly strong uplift in 2021, increasing in value by 50% year-on-year to $4.7 billion, bringing the market to its highest point in 10 years.
Dealer Figures: After a decline of 20% in 2020, aggregate sales reached an estimated $34.7 billion in 2021, increasing 18% year-on-year but still below the level of 2019. Across all dealers, a majority (61%) reported an increase in sales values year-on-year from 2020, 13% were stable, and 26% experienced a decline. The highest rise in values year-on-year was in the segment of dealers with sales between $5 million and $10 million (35%), while smaller dealers (with turnover less than $250,000) experienced the smallest gains (6%). Across all dealers, 55% were more profitable than in 2020, 21% were about the same, and 24% were less profitable.
Auction Figures: Sales at public auction of fine and decorative art and antiques (excluding auction house private sales) reached an estimated $26.3 billion in 2021, an increase of 47% on 2020 driven by the supply of high-quality works coming onto the market, as well as an influx of new buyers. Private sales continued to flourish, with an estimated rise of 32% reaching close to $4.1 billion, over the $3.1 billion reported for 2020. The US, China, and the UK, which retained a dominant share of 78% of public auction sales by value, remained the largest international auction market hubs. China was the largest market for public auction sales with a 33% share — down by 3% year-on-year and only marginally ahead of the US at 32%. Notably, France saw a strong uplift of just over 60% reaching $2.2 billion, 28% higher than pre-pandemic 2019 and bringing the market’s global share up from 6% to 9%.
NFTs: Outside the global art market’s turnover of $65.1 billion, sales of NFTs boomed on NFT platforms. The value of sales for art-related NFTs taking place outside of the art market expanded over hundred-fold in 2021 year-on-year reaching $2.6 billion, with even greater growth in collectibles, to $8.6 billion. The volume of transactions on these external NFT platforms also expanded rapidly growing from just over 755,760 in 2019 to 5.5 million, with collectibles heavily dominating the number of sales (85% of transactions in 2021). In 2021, 74% of HNW collectors surveyed by Arts Economics and UBS Investor Watch, had purchased art-based NFTs, with a median expenditure in this category of NFTs totaling $9,000 each. NFT sales also entered the traditional art market’s auction sector in 2021, but at limited values thus far. Christie’s NFT sales totaled $150 million, including the landmark sale of Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days (2021) for $69.3 million in March. Sotheby’s NFT sales reached $80 million in 2021 – these were also among the most successful in attracting young and new buyers, with 78% of NFT bidders being new to Sotheby’s and more than half of them aged under 40. Only 5% of second-tier auction houses surveyed had sold NFTs in 2021, although 28% were planning to do so in the next one to two years. Similarly, in the dealer sector, just 6% of the dealers surveyed had sold NFTs in 2021, with a further 19% interested in doing so in the next one to two years,
Online Sales: The online market continued to expand, growing by a more moderate 7% in 2021 to reach an estimated $13.3 billion. The share accounted for by online sales in 2021 was 20% of total sales, down 5% in share year-on-year but still more than double the level of 2019 (9%). In 2020, dealers in the $10 million-plus segment more than tripled their online sales from a 9% share in 2019 to 47% in 2020. However, in 2021 this was rebalanced as fairs offered opportunities for sales. If art fair OVRs are included, online sales in this segment fell by 25% to 22% online, while the next largest segment of dealers (with sales between $1 million and $10 million) also saw a decrease of 13%. Top-tier auction houses continued to introduce new formats and invested substantially in the quality and delivery of live-streamed and online-only auction platforms – the former producing some of the most successful live sales of the year – enabling a more continuous, year-round schedule rather than the traditional seasonal cycle of sales.
Art Fairs: In 2021, as the fair calendar resumed, even with a reduced number of fairs and limited capacity in some, art fair sales advanced to 29% (including OVRs), up 7% in share year-on-year, but still nowhere close to the 43% reported in 2019. With the slow return to the full schedule of events and continuing focus on cost concerns, the number of art fairs at which dealers exhibited in 2021 was still below pre-pandemic levels. Dealers reported averaging four art fair exhibitions in 2019 and this fell to three in 2020, but these included just one live event and two OVRs. In 2021, the average remained at three, but the ratio turned in favor again to live events, with two in-person fairs and one OVR. Looking ahead, the majority of dealers surveyed (65%) predicted their art fair sales would increase over the next 12 months, 11% were unsure, and only 9% expected a decline.
Global Wealth and HNW Collectors: Surveys of 2,339 HNW collectors conducted by Arts Economics and UBS Investor Watch across ten markets showed increased spending at high levels in 2021, with collectors having purchased more art and antiques in 2021 on average than they did in 2019 and 2020, reinforcing their importance in maintaining the strength of the art market during the pandemic. The median expenditure on fine art, decorative art, and antiques rose from $72,000 in 2019 to $126,000 in 2020, before more than doubling in 2021 to $274,000. While millennials reported the highest median spending in the surveys in 2020, at $251,000 in 2021, they were slightly lower than their Gen X peers ($298,000) and notably Boomers, who, despite buying fewer works, reported the highest average value overall at $346,000. Dealers remained the most commonly used channel for most collectors for purchasing art in 2021, with 76% of the sample having purchased via a gallery or dealer in some format. The shift to online was evident, with buying directly through a dealer’s website or OVR the most widely used (44% of respondents), while 42% reported accessing sales from galleries or other physical premises (down by 5% on 2020).
Outlook: Forecasting behaviors and looking ahead to the next 12 months, the majority of HNW collectors (53%) were planning to buy art in 2022. A growing interest in digital art is evident, particularly with younger collectors, as over half of the HNW collectors surveyed (56%) reported that they were interested in buying digital art this year, the highest among millennial collectors (61%). There are also no signs that interest in NFTs will abate, with 88% of HNW collectors interested in purchasing NFT-based artworks in future. Both dealers and auction houses were optimistic about their sales prospects in 2022, with 62% of dealers and 81% of the second-tier auction houses expecting improving values in the coming year.