Rise of Online Sales Provided Notable Lift In A Challenging Year, According to Art Basel's Art Market Report

  • BASEL, Switzerland
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  • March 16, 2021

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Esther Schipper, Art Basel 2019. © Art Basel

The global art market dipped 22% year-on-year, to $50.1 billion; revenue was driven by online sales, increased collecting by millenials and women.

The art market rapidly pivoted online in a dramatically shifting landscape in 2020, reveals the 2021 Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report. The fifth edition, The Art Market 2021, written by renowned cultural economist Dr. Clare McAndrew, founder of Arts Economics, offers insights into a global market that dipped by 22% amid widespread lockdown conditions. 

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"The art market was uniquely placed to struggle with the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 as it is populated by mainly small businesses that rely on discretionary purchasing, travel and personal contact," said Dr. 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, which had lagged behind other industries up to now."

Based on an in-depth survey of art market insiders, the hotly anticipated report provides a detailed survey of an industry that was revolutionized in 2020 and continues to adapt as the world grapples with an ongoing pandemic.

Art Basel in Basel 2019. © Art Basel

"The findings from Clare McAndrew’s latest annual report are critical," Noah Horowitz, Director Americas, Art Basel said, "not only in terms of the insights they provide into one of the most unusual and challenging years the global art market has ever endured, but also in regards to what they portend for the future of our industry."

The report reveals many key insights on galleries, collectors, auction houses, and the industry overall. Among the top nine:

1. The global market dipped 22% year-on-year, to $50.1 billion.

2. Online sales doubled to a record high of $12.4 billion, accounting for an all-time high of 25% of the market’s overall value, up from just 9% in 2019. They thus exceed the sales in bricks –and-mortar galleries – a market first.

Including art fair Online Viewing Rooms, (OVRs), the share of dealers’ revenues from online sales tripled, from 13% to 39%.

3. Dealers saw a large decline in revenues but cut costs substantially, so that nearly half (46%) came out more profitable or about as profitable as 2019. Dealer sales were $29.3 billion, down 20% from 2019.

4. Auction houses achieved mixed results, ramping up online sales 36% to $3.2 billion, while public sales results dropped by 30% to $17.6 billion.

5. More than half of art fairs were canceled (61%), thus providing dealers just 13% of their revenue. Art fairs OVRs provided 9% of dealer revenues, with high net worth (HNW) collectors showing considerable willingness to adapt: nearly half (45%) made purchases via this channel. 

6. Get ready for fairs to make a comeback: more than 80% of HNW collectors will be returning this year.

7. Nearly two-thirds (66%) of HNW individuals’ interest in collecting grew because of the pandemic, and nearly one third (32%) say it grew significantly. The biggest spenders? Millennials, more than a third of whom (38%) spent over $1 million.

8. Women are on the rise, outspending their male counterparts. Their median expenditure rose 13%.

9. Collectors are buying conservatively, with nearly half (46%) focusing in 2020 only on galleries they had patronized before.

Click here to download The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report free of charge.


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