Dr Clare McAndrew

Founder of Arts Economics Dr Clare McAndrew, author of the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2023.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The sales total is higher than the 2019 pre-pandemic level. However overall growth slowed. In 2021 sales grew 31%, compared with the 3% in 2022.

The UK recovered its second-place spot, overtaking China with 18% of global sales, while China’s share decreased 3% to 17% (due to the impact of its zero-Covid policies). The US remained top with sales by value increasing 2% year-on-year to 45%. France maintained its position as the fourth largest market globally with no adjustment to its global share of 7%.

The latest figures, reported in the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2023, reveal that performance varied by sector, region, and by price, which means overall growth slowed compared with 2021.

In the US sales rose 8% year-on-year to their highest-ever level of $30.2bn (£24.4bn). This growth was buoyed by a major increase at the high end of the auction sector with moderate growth for dealers.

In the UK, sales rose 5% to $11.9bn (£9.6bn) but remained below their 2019 pre-pandemic level of $12.2bn.

Overall sales at auction houses reached $30.6bn (£24.8bn), which was actually down 2% on the previous year ($31.2bn), but still 11% higher than 2019.

Although much of the growth of the art market is fuelled by the Contemporary art sector, there is still growth in the traditional areas of the market, even if these sectors are now much smaller.

US Old Masters auction sales increased by 58% year-on-year in 2022 to $374m and for European Old Masters sales increased by 14% year-on-year to $574m.

Dealers in antiquities, decorative art and antiques (who had among the lowest average turnovers in the report sample) still saw sales growth. The report noted an increase in sales of specialist dealers (excluding any that also dealt in fine art), with an average rise of 14%.

Although there is slowing growth overall for the art market, report author Clare McAndrew explained that as the market gets bigger, lower growth is still significant. A 3% increase is still a notable rise, particularly following a strong recovery in 2021.

She added: “It is of course a very mixed picture. The US is positive, China is more negative and the UK and Europe are stable.”

High end dealers and auction houses continued to outperform other areas of the market due to the growth in the super wealthy. Since 2009, billionaire wealth has grown by over 380%, far outpacing the growth of the aggregate art market which has increased only around 75% between 2009 to 2022. However, focusing on sales over $10m at fine art auctions, growth has been close to 700%, showing that to the extent that advances in billionaire wealth have fed into the art market, they have most evidently been channelled into supporting the outsized growth of the high end.

Dealers, galleries and fairs

Dealer sales reached an estimated $37.2bn in 2022, up 7%. Dealers with the highest turnovers of over $10m saw some of the largest increases in average sales (at 19%), while the smallest businesses struggled due to “price conscious and cautious buyers, escalating costs, and more stagnant sales”. Dealers with a turnover of less than $250,000 reported sales fell 3%.

In terms of UK galleries and dealers, one area of potential growth is further cross border trade.

The report reveals that for both the US and China the majority of dealer sales are made to local buyers. In contrast the UK’s dealers make most of their sales with overseas buyers. The report found that the US has “a strong and wealthy local market” that “fuels the art trade at all levels with 80% of sales were made to North American buyers” and in China an average of 76% sold to buyers in Mainland China or Hong Kong. In contract in the UK dealers were a “notable exception”, with a “considerably more international focus”. Dealers reported that 40% of their sales were to UK buyers, 24% to the US and 22% to the EU. While dealers with turnover of greater than $10m only making 22% of their sales to local UK buyers

Anthony Browne, chairman of the British Art Market Federation (BAMF), said: “The US is the hugely dominant market, with the biggest share since 2000. The competition for growth for the UK is with the US and China. The report highlights how important cross-border trade is for the art market. This is what we have been talking to government about.

“We could do a lot better if government made cross border trade easier and controlled excessive regulation. The UK is still below where we were in 2010-2019 when we had between 20-22% of market. But I am an optimist. We need the right economic environment, then the UK art market could grow further. The government has it within its gift to do something. We have been talking to them about import VAT and there are other measures that would help.”

There was a recovery for fairs during 2022 with sales at in-person art fairs rising from 27% of total dealers’ sales in 2021 to 35% in 2022 (though below the 42% recorded in 2019). Many dealers remained optimistic for the future with half (51%) of dealers predicting art fair sales to increase and 36% expecting things to remain stable.

Digital trading

Online sales were down compared to the height of the pandemic but were still well-ahead of 2019.

Online-only sales fell to $11bn (£8.9bn), down 17% from the $13.3bn peak in 2021 (but 85% higher than 2019). Online-only sales accounted for 16% of the art market’s turnover in 2022, down from the peak of 25% in 2020.

McAndrew added: “2022 was the first proper year of testing how things would work post-Covid. Online-only sales seem to be at a permanently higher level now. I don’t think they will fall significantly. Auction houses are fully set up for online sales and dealers have made investments in their online platforms. Collectors have tested buying online and many have very positive experiences so will continue. Online sales have doubled since 2019 and I don’t think they will go back to that now.”

The report revelaed that 60% of mid-tier auction houses expect their online sales to increase. While for dealers, a majority predicted a future based on the continued combination of both online and offline growth.

Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report In Numbers:

Total global sales: $67.8bn (£54.8bn) (up 3%) 

US sales: $30.2bn (up 8%)

UK sales: $11.9bn (£9.6bn) (up 5%)

Auction house total sales: $30.6bn (down 2%)

Dealer total sales: $37.2bn (up 7%)

Online-only sales: $11bn (down 17%)

All figures are from the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2023 compiled by founder of Arts Economics Dr Clare McAndrew using 2022 data from auction houses, dealers, collectors, fairs and experts.