The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2019: 5 Key Insights

The third edition of the annual report reveals a 6% increase in global art sales worldwide, with active buying by millennials and growing appetite for online sales

Global art sales reached an estimated $67.4 billion in 2018 – an increase of 6% on 2017, according to findings published in the third Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report. Authored by renowned cultural economist Dr Clare McAndrew, the annual analysis provides fresh insight into a complex market, identifying key trends and assessing the impact of wider economic shifts.

Sales across 2018 brought the global art market to its second-highest level in a decade, representing a rise of 9% since 2008. Other insights from the report, which integrates several strands of UBS research, include active buying by millennials, and growing engagement with online sales. 

1. The US retained its position as market leader

In 2018, the US sustained its position as the world’s largest art market, accounting for 44% of sales by value – or a total of $29.9 billion, the highest recorded level to-date. Despite political uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the UK regained its position as the second-largest market at 21%, with sales buoyed by non-EU trade: in 2018, sales rose by 8% to just under $14 billion. China was the thirdlargest market at 19%, with sales reaching $12.9 billion – a decline of 3% year-on-year.

2. Millennials emerged as active market participants

“A very positive finding of the research this year was the dynamism in collecting by global millennials,” comments McAndrew. This trend was particularly prominent in newer markets in Asia, according to a survey of high-net-worth collectors by Art Economics and UBS. While respondents in the US were predominantly aged 50 and above, in Singapore, 46% of collectors surveyed were millennials, while in Hong Kong the figure was 39%. Collectively, millennials accounted for just under half (45%) of high-end spenders, underlining the importance of this demographic.

3. The online market witnessed continued growth

The online market reached an estimated new high of $6 billion in 2018, representing 9% of global sales – up 11% year-on-year. Despite this, evidence of some buyer caution remains: a UBS and Art Economics survey of high-net-worth collectors in five markets revealed that just 4% had spent $1 million or more on a work of art online.

4. Auction figures rose 3% year-on-year

While economic and political issues drove risk-averse buyers and sellers towards private sales in the dealer market, sales of fine and decorative art and antiques at public auction still rose in value, reaching $29.1 billion – up 3% year-on-year, and nearly 30% on 2016. High-value works had the greatest impact on this sum, accounting for 61% of total sales by value.

5. Art Fairs continued to shape the global market

It was not just auction houses that witnessed growth in 2018: art fairs continued to play a central role in the global art market, with aggregate sales estimated to have reached $16.5 billion in 2018 – up 6% year-on-year. The share of the total value of global dealer sales made at art fairs was 46%.