That mixed picture shows the art market 2023, an investigation on the upper segment of the art market. To do this, international galleries and very wealthy collectors from the US, Asia and Europe, among others, were surveyed. The study was commissioned by the Swiss bank UBS and the prestigious Art Basel art fair.
In 2022, works of art worth 67.8 billion dollars (62.1 billion euros) will be purchased worldwide. That is 3 percent more than in 2021. In that year, the international art market has already recovered from the pandemic, with growth of no less than 31 percent.
It was obvious that 2022 couldn’t match that, but gallery owners and especially super-rich collectors were nonetheless quite optimistic. There was no longer any fear of the lockdowns that had previously put an end to major art fairs. In addition, high-profile auctions such as the collection of Microsoft founder Paul Allen were eagerly awaited.
Van Gogh and Cezanne
However, sentiment changed in the second half of 2022. UBS and Art Basel attribute this to political and economic instability, including the war in Ukraine, inflation and recession fears. Especially in the last quarter, the market cooled, despite the record auction at Christie’s in New York for the Paul Allen collection. It grossed over $1.6 billion. Canvases by Cézanne, Seurat, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Klimt went up for auction for more than $100 million each.
The major auction houses (Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips) also had a record year in 2022, but the auction industry as a whole still had to step back last year, with sales down 1 percent. . This turnaround is striking, because in 2021 it was precisely the auction houses that showed the greatest recovery in the art market. Art and antiques auctions sold an estimated $26.3 billion that year, an increase of 47 percent from 2020.
Enthusiasm for NFTs, certificates of ownership of digital works of art, seems to have evaporated. In 2021, more than €2.6 billion worth of certificates were sold. UBS and Art Basel previously expected that growth to continue. But last year, revenue from artistic NFTs fell by almost half.
The fact that the year has been less successful than expected is largely due to the Chinese market, a country with many wealthy collectors and private museums. There, fairs and auctions have still been canceled due to strict lockdowns, including in the major arts city of Shanghai. There was considerably less enthusiasm for Chinese paintings, ceramics, and calligraphy. The Chinese art market fell 14 percent to 11.2 billion dollars (10.3 billion euros). That is the lowest level since 2009.
Things were better in other parts of the world. The US art market showed a ‘robust recovery’ with growth of 8 percent. The equally important British market grew by 5 percent, despite great economic and political pressure. The higher end of the art market, in particular, continued to do well: At auction, buyers bid each other for paintings starting at $10 million.
The higher segment also worked better for galleries. However, many wealthy buyers play it safe: they look mainly at famous artists and works of art, because that way they take less risk and have an additional increase in value: more of an Old Master than a promising but risky name.
According to UBS and Art Basel, these trends lower hopes that the art market will change after corona. It’s the ‘well-known pattern’ again, according to the report: the upper segment of the art world is above average, thanks to the buying appetite of super-rich collectors, which is causing the gap to widen. This is different from the art market downturn in 2009, when the art market was hit from the bottom up.