The Art Basel UBS Art Market 2023 - a Summary
The Art Basel UBS Art Market 2023 Report presents key findings that show the art market is recovering from the pandemic, here are a few key takeaways and points of interest from the +260-page document:
The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a massive surge in online sales in the art market, with e-commerce sales doubling to reach an all-time high of $12.4 billion in 2020. However, as the pandemic restrictions eased, online sales declined by 17% year-on-year to $11 billion in 2022. This drop was due to a gradual return of live sales and exhibitions, which prompted dealers and auction houses to reduce their aggregate share of pure e-commerce. Nevertheless, the share of online-only sales remained significantly higher than any previous year, accounting for 16% of the art market's total turnover. Despite the decline in online sales, most businesses maintained digital sales programs alongside their return to live events. The growth of e-commerce has been one of the most significant developments in the art market over the last three years, and while it may not be sustained at pandemic levels, it has become an essential aspect of the industry's future.
Despite the mixed results in 2022, the art market showed growth. The high end of the market continued to be the driver of growth, with works priced at over 10 million being the only segment to increase in value. The US art market had one of the most robust recoveries of all the major markets, increasing by just over one third in value to 28.0 billion in 2021 and continuing to grow in 2022 with a further increase of 8% year-on-year to 30.2 billion, its highest level to date. The UK maintained its momentum with a rise of 5% to 11 billion. France maintained its position as the fourth-largest art market worldwide with a stable share of 7%.
The surveys of HNW collectors showed that most spending was still through dealers and galleries, with auctions and online platforms also significant. The rise of platforms selling art-related NFTs outside the art market has been an important development over the last three years.
Overall, the Art Basel UBS Art Market 2023 Report reveals that the global art sales increased by 3% year-on-year to an estimated 67.8 billion in 2022. This marks a higher value than the pre-pandemic level in 2019. Although sales were more mixed in 2022, with variations in performance by sector, region, and price segments resulting in more muted growth, the high end of the market continued to drive growth. The dealer sector grew by 7% to 37.2 billion, with sales for those operating at the higher end being significantly better than their peers in the lowest tiers. The US maintained its premier position in the global ranks, with its share of sales by value increasing by 2% year-on-year to 45%. The UK moved back into second place with 18% of sales, and China's share decreased by 3% to 17%, falling back into third position.
The report also discusses the impact of disintermediation within the art market, which has been a widely discussed topic for the last three years as online platforms have increasingly allowed more direct communication and exchanges between artists and collectors. However, the impact of disintermediation within the art market has been relatively weak to date. Most spending was still through dealers and galleries (30% directly and an additional 15% through art fairs), with 17% via auctions. The surveys also revealed that 20% of spending was via third-party online platforms (6% from Instagram and 6% from NFT platforms outside the art market).
The rise of platforms selling art-related NFTs outside the art market has been an important development over the last three years, and the surge in interest in NFTs was one of the biggest trends of 2021. The cooling of this market in 2022 has also been closely followed, with less focus on booming prices and speculation. Transactions via NFT platforms are not included in the total value of the art market estimated here as they occur outside galleries, dealers, and auction houses, but an analysis of sales on these platforms shows the rapid advance in activity in 2021 and subsequent decline in 2022.
In recent years, NFT art sales shifted from primary to secondary markets. Primary sales dominated in 2019-2020, but the 2021 boom in instant tradability and rising prices caused a significant increase in secondary market resales. In 2021, secondary market sales constituted 73% of the total value of art-related NFTs, with primary sales at 27%. By 2022, the secondary market accounted for 80% of sales and 61% of transactions, indicating that reselling has become the dominant activity. These changes signify a significant shift in the NFT market and its impact on the art world.
Even with the very significant drop in values from late 2021, overall sales of art-related NFTs reached close to 1.5 billion in 2022, a decline of 49% year-on-year, but still representing values that were over 70 times the size of the market in 2020 ($20 million). This fall in sales for the art segment was, however, significantly worse than the performance of NFTs generally, which declined by just 12% in value across all segments. It is also in sharp contrast to the performance of the much larger collectibles segment, which saw values rising by 15% from 10.3 billion in 2021 to 11.8 billion in 2022.
Sotheby’s and Christie’s have digital asset teams as NFTs have changed the artist-dealer relationship. Digital creators often consign directly to auctions, offering higher quality works despite higher fees. Sales volumes have decreased, but interest in NFTs remains high, attracting new collectors.
The average time between purchase and resale of art-related NFTs in 2021 was just 33 days, implying that they were being bought and resold within around one month versus the average resale period on the art market of 25 to 30 years.
The dealer sector has seen a significant increase in sales through online channels over the last few years. The pandemic led to an unprecedented growth in e-commerce, causing a shift in the share of sales made online by dealers from just 13% in 2019 to 39% in 2020. The share of online sales decreased to 22% in 2021, and further declined to 16% in 2022. Sales via third-party platforms and art fair OVRs have reverted to their previous levels or less, while the main growth in online sales has been through dealers' websites, OVRs, or other online platforms. The increase in online selling was relevant across all segments of the market, with some of the largest dealers seeing the biggest changes. However, for the last two years, the share of online sales for dealers in the $10 million-plus segment has declined as offline values have risen. This trend parallels evidence from collectors showing that despite a higher uptake of buying online, the more expensive a work was, the more they wanted to see it in person prior to purchasing. Most high net worth collectors had purchased works of art without viewing them in person first but this was not always their preference. Despite significant advances in viewing and e-commerce functionality, nearly all collectors preferred to view works in person before purchasing.
According to recent surveys, art dealer sales increased by 7% in 2022, reaching $37.2 billion, which restores the market to its 2019 pre-pandemic value. However, smaller dealers with turnovers less than $250,000 had more difficulty due to price-conscious and cautious buyers, rocketing costs, and more stagnant sales. Some galleries have expanded their premises despite the difficult conditions of the last two years. Traditional mediums still dominated dealer sales, but the share of digital, film, and video art increased to 5%. On average, dealers reported that sales from their single highest-selling artists accounted for 31% of their total revenues, while their top three artists accounted for 51%. Art fair sales increased significantly in 2022, with dealers exhibiting at the same number of fairs as they had in 2019. Maintaining relationships with existing collectors was a top priority for 65% of dealers, and it ranked the highest priority overall. Dealers focused on maintaining sales to their existing base of clients and finding new buyers, with new buyers accounting for 35% of their sales on average.
Recent findings show that while there were record-breaking sales in 2022, the public auction sector's aggregate value dipped slightly by 1% to $26.8 billion. The US, China, and the UK were the dominant auction markets, accounting for 76% of public auction sales. Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips reported record annual revenues of $17.7 billion. Fine art works selling for over $1 million accounted for 60% of sales value in just 1% of lots sold, with 32% of sales value from works over $10 million. Sales of works over $10 million increased by 12%. Post-War and Contemporary art accounted for 54% of global fine art auction sales, with Modern art accounting for 22%. Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art had the strongest performance at auction.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a surge in online-only sales for the auction sector, particularly for top-tier houses. In 2020, online-only sales at Christie's, Sotheby's, and Phillips increased by 455% and accounted for 13% of total sales. Online-only sales continued to rise in 2021, totaling $1.4 billion. However, in 2022, the share of online-only sales declined to 7%, although still larger than in 2019. The length of online sales ranged from one to 37 days, with an average length of 12. Christie's launched an on-chain NFT platform, and Sotheby's expanded their Buy Now platform and Sotheby's Metaverse. Phillips also saw a significant increase in online-only sales during the pandemic. Although the number and value of online-only sales moderated in 2022, they surpassed pre-pandemic levels and gained momentum in China.
The Art Basel UBS Art Market 2023 Report can be downloaded its entirety here: https://theartmarket.artbasel.com/