The global art trade generated $67.8 billion in 2022 according to an annual survey published Tuesday by Art Basel and UBS. That figure marks a 3 percent increase over the $61.5 billion reported last year for 2022, and 6 percent above the pre-pandemic figure of $64 billion reported in 2019. The last time the market was at this level was in 2018.
Cultural economist Clare McAndrew, who has written the report for over a decade, surveyed several hundred international galleries and 2,700 high-net-worth art collectors with assets above $1 million based in the U.S., the U.K., Asia, and Europe.
Although the overall sales figure for this year was higher than the market’s pre-pandemic level, the report’s findings described the 2022 picture for dealers, auction houses and others player in the trade as one of “muted growth.”
The survey found that the U.S. continues to be the largest national market in the art trade, occupying 45 percent of the total value share, up 2 percent from last year. In second and third place are the U.K. and China, which account for 18 and 17 percent of sales, respectively. This year saw the UK replace China as the second largest market hub, which fell by 3 percent in market share from 2021.
The U.S. saw sales increase by 8 percent, to around $30.2 billion, in 2022. Sales in the UK increased by 5 percent, reaching $11.9 billion. For the market in China, numbers were down significantly as prolonged lockdown policies stalled business. Sales declined by 14 percent to $11.2 billion in 2021.
“The high end seems to have made the most of the comeback of events,” McAndrew told ARTnews in an interview about the trade’s post-pandemic status. McAndrew described some of the report’s findings as a “mixed bag” of financial performances across various part of the business at large. But the vendors taking part in seven-figure art sales are benefiting from increased concentrations in billionaire wealth, she said.
There is a part of the business where the number of sales of works priced over $1 million, she said, “has been doing much better than everything below that.” She described that finding as an “extreme” part of a longer-term trend that’s seen bigger commercial players dominating smaller peers.
Gallery sales reached $37.2 billion in 2022. That marks an increase in 7 percent from 2021. Surveys of the dealer community found that larger galleries (ones that have an annual $10 million turnover), saw a 19 percent increase in their average sale figures in the last year. Meanwhile, smaller galleries struggled, McAndrew said, as rising operating and logistical costs for dealers and for collectors put increased pressure on dealmaking, where discounts were a growing request. Gallerists with annual sales of $250,000 or less saw a 3% drop in sales in 2022. For mid-to-small sized dealers, the bulk of sales made to new buyers also fell in 2022, the report found.
Meanwhile, public auction sales reached $30.6 billion, down 2 percent from 2021. The figure was still 11% higher than pre-pandemic 2019 level. Private sales at auction houses generated $3.8 billion, down from the $4.1 billion reported in 2021.
Despite the drop, the market, McAndrew said, continues to be a top heavy one. This means the high-end of the trade continues to fare well even when economic forces present hurdles. One statistic from the report clearly shows that dynamic. At auction houses, the number of sales of art works with price tags over $10 million, buoyed in some part by activity in high-profile sales like the $1 billion Paul Allen estate, rose by 12%. Meanwhile, artworks at lower-value tiers, the report noted, saw those volumes drop between 2022 and 2021.
NFTs saw the market’s starkest decline in the last year. Since the boom in 2021, based on McAndrew’s report, it appears that many collectors are shifting focus away from art-related NFT sales. NFT sales via online platforms accounted for sales of close to $1.5 billion in 2022, a 50 percent drop from the $2.9 million seen in 2021.