Global art sales fell 4 percent to  billion in 2023

sotheby's headquarters, Global Art Sales
Sotheby’s World Headquarters on York Avenue, Manhattan’s Upper East Side, via Wikimedia Commons.

Global art sales in 2023 saw only a 4% drop in market value to a projected $65 billion, according to the annual art market report published by Art Basel and UBS. There were many challenges, such as low auction sales that hit both sides of the Atlantic. Also, there was a noticeable paucity of prime assets on the block. However, that figure is higher than the paper’s pre-pandemic forecast for 2019 of $64.4 billion.

Sotheby's Auction 2023, Global Art Sales
Sotheby’s auctioneer during the ‘Now’ evening sale on 2 March in London.

The study’s author, economist Clare McAndrew, attributed the decline to a number of factors. Generally, these factors include high interest rates, rising inflation and global turmoil. All listed are attributed to decreased sales, particularly at the higher end of the market (art works selling for $10 million or more). “It was inevitable that things would slow down a bit, given how incredible the post-Covid recovery was,” explained McAndrew.

“But you don’t need a lot of those $50-$100 million plus sales to make a big difference. They pack a punch both ways. Fortunately, this is not a dramatic contraction of the kind we saw in 2014 or 2009. This is a much more normal, more natural decline that reflects the context of the times,” the economist further explained. In addition to lower eight- and nine-figure revenues last year, McAndrew said the company’s rising costs will be a big problem in 2023.

Christie's, Global Art Sales
Cécile Verdier, President of Christie’s Paris selling Joan Mitchell’s title Sans. Courtesy Christie’s.

Rising interest rates that affected the purchasing power of collectors at the highest level prompted dealers to shift their focus from sales to revenue. Also, from expansion to sustainability. Analyzing regional patterns, the survey found that the United States maintained its place as the world’s leading art market. It accounted for 42% of sales by value, despite a 3% year-on-year decline.

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Great Britain has now dropped to third place

christie-s-king-street
Christie’s on King Street, St James’s, via Wikimedia Commons.

Surprisingly, China eclipsed the UK as the world’s second largest market, accounting for 19% of the total. Sales in China rose 9% to an estimated $12.2 billion. It improved thanks to the country’s relaxing COVID-19 restrictions. Also, thanks to a thriving auction sector, filled with goods from deferred sales and the debut of many new art events in Asia. Meanwhile, Great Britain dropped to third position with 17 percent of the market.

Its sales fell 8% to $10.9 billion in 2023. According to the survey, the country’s worsening global position is likely to be caused by a dramatic decline in high-value evening sales. The data reported a 3% decline in dealer sales to $36.1 billion last year. Art fairs represented 29% of dealer revenue, down 6% from 2022 but up 27% from 2021’s COVID-19 era low.

Christie's
American branch of Christie’s at Rockefeller Center in New York. Via Wikipedia.

Online sales rose 7% to $11.8 billion, highlighting the expanding role of digital channels in enabling art transactions. Looking ahead to 2024, the research says marketers are cautiously optimistic, with 36% expecting an increase in sales and just 16% expecting a decrease. However, many dealers said the future looks bleak, with political and economic uncertainty hanging over the industry and the cost of maintaining relationships with customers and attending art shows among the most pressing issues.

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