According to the latest annual report from Art Basel and UBS Art Market, released on Tuesday, global sales of art and antiques in 2020 were down 22 percent year-on-year.
The 359-page report, the most comprehensive analysis yet of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the international art trade, found that combined sales from dealers and auction houses were $ 50.1 billion, the lowest since the 2009 financial crisis.
After art fairs were postponed and galleries closed, dealer sales fell 20 percent overall to $ 29.3 billion in 2020, while public auctions, many of which were conducted only in online formats, fell 30 percent to 17.6 Billions of dollars in decline. A brighter spot was private auction house transactions, which grew 36 percent to $ 3.2 billion, according to the report.
“It could have been a lot worse than it was,” said economist Clare McAndrew, author of the report, which was compiled from publicly available auction house data and estimates based on survey responses from 1,715 art and antique dealers.
“The second half of the year was better for a lot of people,” McAndrew said in an interview. “There has been a big shift to online sales and some galleries in Asia have come back very strongly.”
The report found that billionaires rose 7 percent in 2020 and the wealth they owned rose 32 percent over the year. “On the buy side, there were a lot of people with a lot of time and money, and there weren’t that many outlets for their expenses,” said McAndrew.
The report found that online art and antiques sales hit an estimated high of $ 12.4 billion in 2020, double the previous year’s figure, which is 25 percent of market value.
The tectonic plates of the art trade also shifted during the 2020 pandemic, according to the report. The United States remained the largest overall market with combined auction and dealer sales of $ 21.3 billion, followed by China, which according to the report includes mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The ability to lift coronavirus-related restrictions sooner than Western economies put China in second place with $ 10 billion in sales, overtaking the UK with $ 9.9 billion. China also became the world’s largest center for auction sales, at $ 6.3 billion.
The report, commissioned by Art Basel, one of the world’s largest art fair organizers, said 61 percent of the 365 fairs scheduled for 2020 have been canceled, but most of those scratched events are either online viewing rooms or other digital ones Rooms had offered alternative. As a result, traders said they generated 22 percent of their annual sales from trade shows, including online viewing rooms, which is roughly half the percentage they spent on trade shows in 2019.
Thaddaeus Ropac, a contemporary art dealer with galleries in London, Paris and Salzburg, Austria, said, “We don’t sell large works online at art fairs.”
March 16, 2021, 8:42 p.m. ET
For the online viewing rooms, he said, “We have put works by some younger artists on for people we don’t know.”
However, during the pandemic, Ropac said he had noticed a renewed willingness among its established customers to purchase high quality works that they had not seen in person. In the coming month, Ropac plans to offer a number of new large-format works by the German painter Georg Baselitz in its Salzburg gallery at a price of around 1.2 million euros each.
“Ninety percent of it is sold to people who haven’t seen the pictures,” said Ropac. He estimated that his dealer’s sales declined by about 25 percent over the past year, but he’s managed to employ more than 100 people.
Although the Art Basel and UBS report provides little specific data on gallery closings, it has been estimated that employment in the art market has contracted 5 percent in 2020, including “significant declines” at some of the top-end auction houses.
McAndrew, the report’s author, said she didn’t expect the art trade to return to anything resembling normalcy anytime soon.
“I see this as another year of transition. Nobody expected this to take this long, ”she said, pointing out that many government-backed measures to support employers would expire this year. “I suspect we may see more companies in trouble.”
But what did she think of the latest mania in the market for non-fungible tokens or NFTs, which culminated last week in a JPG file by digital artist Beeple that sold at Christie’s for a record $ 69.3 million?
According to McAndrew, that sale would be included in Art Basel and UBS’s 2021 reports, but their current methodology didn’t include NFT-specific sales platforms like Nifty Gateway and Open Sea, which host other Beeple works for up to $ 6.6 million were sold.
“NFTs interest me in the future,” said McAndrew. “Is my $ 50 billion shrinking a bit? And will the activity outside be even greater? “