The Art Market 2021: A Conversation

An expert panel discuss key findings from the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report – from the impact of COVID-19, to new trends

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The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report “shines an important light on the dynamics that underpin the art market,” says Melanie Gerlis, Art Market Columnist & Contributor, Financial Times, introducing a discussion on key findings from the annual analysis with its author Dr. Clare McAndrew, Founder, Arts Economics; Paul Donovan, Global Wealth Management, Chief Economist UBS; and Noah Horowitz, Director Americas, Art Basel.

In 2020, McAndrew explains, global sales of art and antiques reached US$50.1 billion – down 22% on 2019, but still above the 2009 recession low. This dip, she estimates, “was probably inevitable, with businesses closing and events cancelled, and people unable to travel.” While the art market’s physical platforms were impacted, however, the year saw “a huge shift into online activity” – a phenomenon McAndrew cites as “one of the biggest findings of the report […] Online sales reached over $12 billion – doubling in value from 2019, with a quarter of all art and antiques sold online.”

The report incorporates results from a survey of more than 2,500 HNW collectors across ten markets, conducted by UBS Evidence Lab and Arts Economics. Findings indicate that “collectors were highly active across several online channels,” says McAndrew – with just under half having purchased works online through an auction house, gallery, or art fair OVR. Horowitz was “fascinated” to discover that “two thirds of those surveyed were significantly more interested, or more interested, in collecting art as a result of COVID-19.” He adds: “I think there is a basic and fundamental connection with culture and art – as an intellectual and emotional journey – that COVID really drove home.”

Donovan agrees that “interest in culture increased in 2020” – with online platforms enhancing accessibility: “People have had access to more forms of culture and more time to enjoy them than they had prior to the pandemic.” While engagement with online platforms has increased, many collectors are eager to return to in-person events: McAndrew highlights that 75% of those surveyed expressed a preference for viewing potential purchases in person, while Horowitz explains that “66%, or two thirds of collectors, feel willing to attend an overseas fair by the second quarter” – a sum that rises to 92% by the fourth quarter.”

Other key findings include heightened activity among certain demographics. “Young collectors were among the highest spenders, and women were spending more,” says McAndrew. The latter, Donovan explains, reflects wider economic trends: “Interestingly, particularly in Asia, and also elsewhere, the number of female entrepreneurs has been increasing. The number of female billionaires has also been increasing faster than men […] I think that, finally, there is a small sliver of gender equality coming into wealth distribution.”

March 2021

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