5 Insights from the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2021
Discover key findings from our annual analysis of the global art market – from the impact of COVID-19, to digital innovation and growth in female spending
How did the art market perform in an unprecedented year? Authored by renowned cultural economist Dr Clare McAndrew, the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report offers the definitive guide, analyzing the impact of COVID-19 and other forces that continue to shape the market in 2021 and beyond.
The report features results from a survey of more than 2,500 collectors across 10 key markets by UBS Investor Watch and Arts Economics – providing fresh insights into buyer behavior. Here, we share five findings from the report, which can be downloaded in full via the link below.
Global sales of art and antiques reached an estimated $50.1 billion in 2020
The figure was down 22% on 2019, but still above the 2009 recession low, when sales fell by 36% to $39.5 billion. The US market retained its position as leader, with a share of 42% of global sale values. Greater China and the UK followed, on par at 20% - however Greater China overtook the US to become the largest public auction market, with a share of 36% of sales by value.
Online sales reached record highs - doubling in value
Though the pandemic forced many auction houses, galleries and fairs to abandon in-person activity, it also accelerated digital transformation. Online sales doubled in value from 2019 to reach a record high of $12.4 billion. The figure represented a record 25% share of the market’s total value - the first time the share of e-commerce in the art market has exceeded that of general retail..
Many collectors felt the pandemic increased their interest in collecting
Despite having fewer opportunities to buy in-person, collectors surveyed remained actively engaged with the art market in 2020, buying an average of nine works, versus 10 in 2019. 66% of those surveyed said the pandemic had increased their interest in collecting, and one third (32%) said this increase had been significant. Many intend to be active in 2021, with 57% planning to purchase more work. Foot traffic data from UBS Evidence Lab offers early indications of renewed visits to commercial galleries in 2021.
Female buying power and artist representation
Women spent more than men, with their median expenditure rising 13% year-on-year to $154,000. Although gender representation is still an issue across all regions surveyed, there are some indications that the share of female artists’ works in collections is slowly improving over time, having increased to 39% in 2020, versus 37% in 2019, and 33% in 2018. Female collectors were more likely to have a greater share of works by female artists in their collection than men (42% versus 36%).
Millennial HNW collectors were the highest spenders in 2020, with 30% having spent over $1 million (versus 17% of Boomers). Millennials were also more likely to be active online, reporting greater use of online viewing rooms offered by art fairs and galleries, and social media channels.
How has an unprecedented period impacted the behavior of galleries and collectors? A new mid-year survey by Art Basel and UBS shares initial insight
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a humbling impact on many industries including the luxury segment and the $64 billion art market. A new, mid-year survey by Art Basel and UBS, ‘The Impact of Covid-19 on the Gallery Sector’ aims to provide initial insight into the impact of the crisis, with responses from 795 galleries covering 60 different markets, and 360 collectors from the US, UK and Hong Kong SAR (China).
The report is authored by renowned cultural economist and Founder of Arts Economics, Dr. Clare McAndrew, and integrates research from UBS Chief Investment Office and UBS Evidence Lab Insights. To mark its launch, McAndrew joined Paul Donovan, Global Wealth Management Chief Economist UBS, and Noah Horowitz, Director Americas Art Basel in a conversation led by Melanie Gerlis, Art Market Columnist and Contributor Financial Times.
‘On average, galleries saw their sales drop 36% compared to the same period in the first six months last year,’ says Clare McAndrew—findings that mirror sales across luxury goods industries. Nearly all galleries closed their premises between January and July 2020, and one third of galleries downsized, losing an average of four employees, with around half of losses being full-time.
Collectors remain active and engaged
‘Although it’s been a tough market, collectors are still purchasing, based on the data that we gathered from the collectors survey with UBS,’ comments Noah Horowitz. Contrary to other recessions, gallerists noted an acute awareness and strong drive by some collectors to support the arts. In the first half of 2020, most collectors across all regions purchased a work of art, with 6% purchasing ten or more. Of those surveyed, 59% said the COVID-19 pandemic had increased their interest in collecting, with 31% saying it had done so significantly.
Millennials continue to be the biggest spenders
The survey revealed differences in behavior across generations: only 3% of millennial collectors had not purchased an artwork in 2020, versus over one third of boomers. 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 and most Gen X collectors were actively working with galleries during the crisis, while 40% of boomers reported that they were not actively working with a gallery at this time.
The art market’s shift online has accelerated—and is here to stay
The art market has historically been slow to embrace e-commerce; however, findings indicate that this has changed in the face of the crisis. In the first half of 2020, online sales accounted for 37% of galleries’ total sales—up from 10% in 2019. Of the collectors surveyed, 85% or more had visited online viewing rooms for galleries or fairs, with just less than half of those having used them to finalize the purchase of an artwork. The majority (66%) of galleries surveyed anticipated that online sales in the gallery sector would further increase in 2021.
Collectors welcome improved price transparency
A shift towards greater price transparency through online viewing rooms and digital platforms was cited anecdotally by collectors as one of the more progressive outcomes of the crisis: 81% felt it was important or essential to have a price posted when they were browsing works of art for sale online, and some also felt this was important to maintain in future on- and off-line sales. ‘I think that’s something you can’t ignore,’ says McAndrew. ‘It’s good for new buyers and established collectors, as well as advisors.’
Boomers are more likely to continue to seek new discoveries
During the first half of 2020, 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. Significant differences, however, were found between generations: ‘the Boomer generation is actually the one most interested in looking for new galleries, which runs contrary to what you might have thought,’ notes Horowitz. 35% of Boomers said they were seeking new discoveries—more than twice the share of millennial collectors.
Collectors continue to value physical encounters with art above all
Though online platforms are widely used, collectors indicated that they are not their preferred means to interact with the art market. Asked how they would prefer to view art, 70% opted for attending a physical or offline exhibition or fair, versus 30% who preferred to use online viewing rooms or other online platforms. Despite ongoing restrictions on travel, most collectors (82%) were still actively planning to attend exhibitions, art fairs and events sometime in the next 12 months. ’Humans are naturally curious; we don’t like sitting at home,’ says Paul Donovan, who anticipates international travel will return despite an immediate trend towards localization.
Asked to identify a positive emerging trend, Donovan identifies the ‘striking’ surge in business creation since the end of lockdowns. ‘People are setting up their own businesses. To me, that signals a general degree of confidence in the economic future [..] We always underestimate how much people can adapt in the face of changing circumstances. I think the same applies for the art market.’
Commenting on the report Christl Novakovic, CEO of UBS Europe SE and Head Wealth Management Europe, said: ‘From our conversations with collectors it is apparent that there is a continued drive to support the market. Digital platforms can increase price transparency and broaden the base of new buyers at different price levels. Strengthening this globalized community is essential for the health of the market in the future.’
Where is the art market’s largest centre? And which demographic spent the most in 2019? Discover key findings from the definitive guide to the global art market
In 2019, global art sales eased 5% year-on-year to an estimated $64.1 billion – while the volume of transactions hit a decade-high of 40.5 million, according to the latest edition of the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report. Authored by renowned cultural economist Dr Clare McAndrew, the annual analysis is the definitive guide to key trends and developments – with an additional survey of 1,300 high-net-worth collectors by UBS Investor Watch and Arts Economics providing fresh insight into buyer behavior.
Further insights include active spending by millennial and female collectors, and an increase in the number of online purchases in excess of $1million.
The US retained its position as the largest market globally
The country accounted for 44% of the global market share in 2019 – a percentage unchanged since 2018. Despite uncertainty around Brexit, the UK retained its position as the second largest market, with a share of 20%, followed by China – the third largest market, with a share of 18%.
Millennial collectors were the most active buyers – and spent the most
Buyers in this age group averaged a total expenditure of $3 million over two years, according to a survey of 1,300 high-net-worth collectors by UBS Investor Watch and Arts Economics, included in the report. The figure is more than six times the amount spent by boomers.
Female collectors had a higher average level of spending than men
Though there were fewer female collectors, those surveyed had a higher average level of spending than men – with 16% having spent more than $10 million in the last two years. Female collectors also had larger collections than men on average, with one-third exceeding 100 works.
Nearly half of collectors had purchased through an online platform
48% of high-net-worth collectors surveyed said they ‘always’ or ‘often’ purchased works through online platforms. Of those that had bought online, one quarter had spent more than $100,000, while 8% had spent over $1 million – double the share that had spent at that level in 2018.
Auction sales made up 42% of the market, while those in the dealer sector accounted for 58%
Sales at public auction reached $24.2 billion in 2019 – down 17% after two years of consecutive growth. Despite the decline in public auction sales, private sales increased in all the major top-tier Western auction houses. Globally, dealer sales increased by 2% year-on-year to an estimated $36.8 billion.
Art fairs remained a central part of the global art market
In 2019, aggregate sales from art fairs reached an estimated $16.6 billion – accounting for 45% of the total value of global dealer sales. New data shed lights on the distribution of art fair sales: 15% were estimated to take place pre-fair ($2.5 billion); 64% during fairs ($10.6 billion); and 21% were made after the fair as a direct result of participation ($3.5 billion).
Female artists and collectors gained slightly greater representation
Women accounted for 44% of all artists represented by galleries working in the primary sector – an increase of 8% year-on-year, according to dedicated research into gender issues. Female buyers were also more prominent, accounting for 36% of all dealer transactions – an increase of 9% on 2018.
Paul Donovan, Chief Economist, UBS Global Wealth Management, said: "The art market often mirrors the trends and economic developments we see in wealth creation. The growth of millennial and female spending power today is part of that. But even economists must admit that there is more to life than economics. True collectors are driven by passion and an appreciation for quality. Art pays emotional dividends, enriching lives in a way that GDP can never capture."
UBS shares its passion for art and collecting with a global community of clients and has one of the world’s largest and most important corporate art collections. The firm seeks to advance the international conversation about the art market through its global lead partnership with Art Basel and as co-publisher of this report. UBS provides its clients with insight into the art market, collecting and legacy planning through its Art Collectors Circle and UBS Art Advisory.
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%.
This article is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be relied upon as investment advice or the basis for making any investment decisions. The views and opinions expressed may not be those of UBS Financial Services Inc. UBS Financial Services Inc. does not verify and does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information presented.
As a firm providing wealth management services to clients, UBS Financial Services Inc. offers investment advisory services in its capacity as an SEC-registered investment adviser and brokerage services in its capacity as an SEC-registered broker-dealer. Investment advisory services and brokerage services are separate and distinct, differ in material ways and are governed by different laws and separate arrangements. It is important that clients understand the ways in which we conduct business, that they carefully read the agreements and disclosures that we provide to them about the products or services we offer. For more information, please review the PDF document at
UBS Financial Services Inc. is a subsidiary of UBS AG. Member FINRA/SIPC.