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Global Art Market Shrank 22 Percent Amid Pandemic

Global Art Market Shrank 22 Percent Amid Pandemic

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Global Art Market Shrank 22 Percent Amid Pandemic

Combined sales of art and antiques fell by 22 percent year-over-year during 2020, according to a report released today by Art Basel and UBS. The contraction was the greatest seen since the sector shrank in 2009 amid fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis of the preceding year. The art market overall is still more robust than it was then, having generated $50.1 billion in sales in 2020, compared with $39.5 billion in 2009. Additionally, the dip was not as bad as the 30 percent to 40 percent that the report’s author, economist Clare McAndrew, had expected in light of the shuttering of galleries and institutions and the cancellation or postponement of fairs, biennials, auctions, and other events worldwide.The reasons for this are threefold, according to the report. Whereas the number of billionaires worldwide fell by 30 percent in 2009, with their combined wealth taking a 45 percent hit, in 2020 the number of billionaires increased by 7 percent and their wealth ballooned by 32 percent. Thanks to the rise of online sales platforms, which was hastened owing to the pandemic, the wealthy—bored at home like the rest of us—were able to purchase art at the tap of a screen. Dealers, shut out of their typical sales venues or participating in smaller fairs for a reduced price, saw overhead costs shrink as online sales doubled year-over-year to a record $12.4 billion. Though that figure represents a quarter of all such transactions, it should be noted that the so-called online viewing rooms meant to stand in for IRL art fair booths generated only 9 percent of dealers’ total income, while sales at fairs that did take place accounted for 13 percent; sales at fairs typically account for half of all dealer sales in a given year.Employment at galleries fell by 5 percent, while that at auction houses fell 2 percent. The report intimates that only 1 percent of galleries worldwide were forced by the pandemic to close permanently. However, McAndrew acknowledged that of the 1,715 art and antiques dealers surveyed, those facing closure were least likely to have responded, noting that the full fiscal effect of the pandemic on the sector has yet to be seen.“Calculations regarding employment and business structures carried out at the end of 2020 are . . . likely to understate significantly the true impact of the crisis, with business closures only occurring after a period of time, particularly as some businesses have been maintained through public support programs,” she said in a statement. “As these are phased out, it is likely that more businesses may not be able to continue to operate.”

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