Zurich, 09 September 2020 – Art Basel and UBS today published a 2020 mid-year survey 'The Impact of COVID-19 on the Gallery Sector' written by renowned cultural economist Dr. Clare McAndrew, Founder of Arts Economics. The survey findings present an analysis of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted 795 galleries operating in the Modern and contemporary gallery sector, representing 60 different markets across all levels of turnover, throughout the first six months of 2020.

In order to assess the level of collector participation and interaction with the gallery sector and art market during the first half of 2020, Arts Economics worked in collaboration with UBS to gather insights from 360 high net worth collectors across three different markets: the US, the UK, and Hong Kong SAR (China). The full report is free to download at www.ubs.com/art.

The key findings include:

  • Gallery sales contracted by over a third: Sales have contracted by an average of 36% in the first half of 2020 as nearly all galleries (93%) had closed their premises between January and July 1 of 2020 – findings that mirror sales across luxury goods industries.
  • One third of galleries downsized: losing an average of four employees, with around half of the losses being full-time.
  • Online sales accelerated: Dealers reported using a range of online strategies to maintain liquidity and relationships. In the first half of 2020 online sales accounted for 37% of total sales, up from 10% in 2019. 74% were regular clients of the gallery, of which 29% had bought offline in the past but were new to online buying in 2020. New online buyers with whom the gallery had never had personal contact accounted for an average of 26% of online sales. 85% of the high net worth collectors surveyed had visited online viewing rooms of art fairs, and 40% had purchased works through them.
  • Collectors remain active and engaged: The high net worth survey found that 92% of collectors had purchased a work of art so far in 2020. The value of spending was at a relatively high level across the three markets: a majority (56%) of collectors had spent over $100,000 in the first half of 2020, including 16% spending over $1 million. The millennial segment also had the largest share of high spenders, with 17% having spent over $1 million in the six-month period (versus just 4% of boomers). Nearly all millennial collectors (99%) and most Gen X collectors (94%) reported that they were actively working with galleries during the crisis. However, one-third of collectors chose to only buy works by artists they were familiar with, or had bought before – a trend which, if continued, could reinforce the status quo, making it harder for younger artists and galleries to become established, and potentially impacting diversity in the market.
  • Collectors welcome improved price transparency: Price transparency was one of the most highly valued features of these digital forums, with 81% of collectors reporting that it was important or essential to have a price posted when they were browsing works of art for sale online.
  • Collectors continue to value physical encounters with art most: Many galleries noted that online forums did not come close to replicating the experience of physical fairs – a sentiment shared by collectors, the majority of whom (70%) reported they prefer to view art for sale in person and placed a high or very high value on the sense of discovery and the opportunities for discussion and social contact afforded by offline events.
  • Looking ahead: The majority of galleries expected sales to continue to decrease in 2020, with only 21% expecting an uptick in the second half of the year. There was more optimism about 2021, but even so, only 45% of galleries expected sales to increase from 2020. However, HNW collectors had a relatively positive outlook – 59% felt that the COVID-19 pandemic had increased their interest in collecting; this boost was particularly strong among younger collectors. Over the longer term, collector’s confidence in the art market is advancing in all markets. Young and wealthier collectors appear to be most optimistic, with over 60% of millennial collectors being optimistic about its performance in the next six and 12 months versus 24% of boomers.

Christl Novakovic, CEO of UBS Europe SE and Head Wealth Management Europe, said: “The pandemic disrupted economies and societies, and galleries worldwide had to adapt quickly to new behaviors and realities. Our survey of high net worth collectors illustrates a continued drive to support the market, as it migrates ever faster to online platforms. Digital platforms can increase price transparency and broaden the base of new buyers at different price levels. Strengthening this digital community globally may be essential for the health of the market in the future.”

Clare McAndrew, Founder, Arts Economics said: “The art market has often shown resilience to events in the wider economic and political environment, but the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has presented the market—and the gallery sector in particular—with some of its biggest challenges yet. Despite finding ways to maintain trading online, the pandemic has had and will continue to have a deep and profound effect on businesses: some galleries have already closed permanently, others have furloughed or laid off significant numbers of employees, and the effect on those that remain open is still unfolding. Along with these negative effects, crises can also be unique times of restructuring and innovation within markets. This study is a first attempt to better understand the full impact of the present COVID-19 crisis, the strategies taken in response to it, and the changes it will bring to the sector, this study intends to provide the necessary research to track trends over time and across regions of the market.”

Noah Horowitz, Director Americas, Art Basel said: “Clare McAndrew's mid-year survey presents our industry with essential information and learnings to guide our gallery peers – and the art world at large –through a period that demands great resilience and adaptability in the face of new economic realities and consumer behaviors. These findings reflect the many and significant challenges our industry has faced through the first half of 2020, yet what is equally clear from the results of the report is the shared sense of engagement, purpose, and community that continues to define so much of the art market and remains vitally important to our future.”

In addition to the UBS and Arts Economics research collaboration on the HNW collectors survey, the report includes an economic perspective from UBS CIO; ‘COVID-19 Forges Resilience and Adaptability’ and latest insights on consumer behaviour during the COVID-19 crisis from UBS Evidence Lab, an alternative data provider within UBS. For the latest insights from UBS Evidence Lab, visit www.ubs.com/evidence-lab-latest-insights

UBS Group AG


UBS Group AG
Tamsin Selby
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Sara Kietzmann
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Art Basel
Sarah Norton
Tel. +41 58 206 27 64