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Art Market Moved $66 Billion Last Year, Nearing Pre-Recession Levels

by Jillian Steinhauer on March 13, 2014

Sotheby auctioneer Adrian Biddell in action (photo by Financial Times, via Flickr)

Sotheby auctioneer Adrian Biddell in action (photo by Financial Times, via Flickr)

International art and antique market sales totaled €47.4 billion ($66 billion) last year, their highest sum since the pre-recession days of 2007, according to the European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF)’s annual art market report, released yesterday. The report extensively examines the 2013 market, which grew 8% from the previous year and reflects an overall increase of more than 150% in the past decade.

One of the primary trends identified by Dr. Clare Mc Andrew, author of the report, will likely not come as a surprise to most people:

The volume of transactions in the global art market also increased in 2013, but by less than the growth in value, indicating that a significant part of the uplift of the market was due to higher priced works, rather than simply more works sold.

The art market, in other words, is top-heavy, mirroring the larger societal accumulation of the most of the world’s wealth in the hands of a small number of extremely wealthy individuals.

The report explains how this plays out at auctions, where there’s a large, notable difference between average and median prices (see chart above):

The lowest three price brackets of works sold for less than €50,000 accounted for 93% of all lots sold in 2013, despite only having accounted for 18% of total sales by value. … At the high end of the market, less than 0.5% of works at auction were sold for over €1 million, with these lots accounting for 44% of sales by value. The highest priced lots over €10 million also accounted for a tiny fraction of sales (less than 0.1%), but they still made up 16% of the market’s total value.

An examination of auction sales of the work of individual artists shows that the majority of sales by value are works of a very small group of artists. Of those artists whose works appeared on the auction market in 2013, the majority (55%) were sold for less than €3,000, and 90% for less than €50,000. The work of less than 1% were sold for over €1 million, and only a tiny fraction had top selling lots for over €10 million (less than 50 artists worldwide). … It is also true of the dealer market, with high-end dealers commenting that their top collectors appeared to be interested in the work of only about 50 to 100 artists.

The report also echoes a concern that’s been discussed a lot in the past year: the ongoing squeeze on the middle of the market. Mc Andrew found that dealers with sales between €500,000 and €10 million saw very low growth (only 2–3%) from 2012, while dealers with sales either over €10 million or under €500,000 grew substantially (11% and 12%, respectively).

Market breakdowns by sector are also included, with postwar and contemporary art being the largest, reaching a historical peak of €4.9 billion in auction sales alone. There’s a focus on geography in relation to all different aspects of the market — value, volume, imports and exports, buyers — with special sections on the US and China. The US continues to dominate the art market, the report finds: “it had a 52% share of the value of of all lots sold for over €1 million at auction around the world. It also accounted for 78% of the volume and 60% of the value of all transactions priced over €10 million.” China, which “remains the most important of all of the newer art markets,” comes in second place, with €11.5 billion in sales.

Another notable thread concerns online sales, both at auction and for dealers. The report estimates that online sales in 2013 were in “in excess of €2.5 billion, or around 5% of global art and antique sales” and suggests that the online market could grow by as much as 25% per year (although it’s unclear where that prediction comes from). The worldwide leader in online sales was not Sothebys or Christie’s but the New York–based Heritage Auctions. And dealers were benefiting from the internet, too, with 62% of their online sales going to new buyers.

Here are a few more standouts from the long (160 pages), information-packed report:

  • “In 2013, based on conservative estimates, there were 308,525 businesses selling art and antiques worldwide, consisting of dealers, galleries, antique shops and auction houses.
  • “In 2013, it is conservatively estimated that the global art trade spent €12.1 billion on a range of external support services directly linked to their businesses. The highest single item of expenditure in 2013 by the art trade was on advertising and marketing at €3.2 billion (26% of total spending), of which 79% was spending by auction houses.
  • “Spending on art fairs, although only incurred by dealers, was the second largest at €1.9 billion.
  • “It can be estimated that there are at least 600,000 mid-to-high level regular collectors of art and antiques. From those, some experts within the trade estimate that there is a group of 3,000 collectors at the highest level, at least half of these reside in New York.
  • “In 2013, dealers reported making 33% of their total sales through art fairs.
  • “By far the largest share of sales (78%) in 2013 were to private collectors. On average, 9% of sales in 2013 were to museums and other public institutions, although this ranged from 1% to 80% for different dealers.
  • “The UK was the largest importer and exporter of art globally and a net importer of art, with imports of €6.1 billion exceeding exports of €5.8 billion, both just marginally ahead of the US.”

And this only just breaks the surface. The full report can be ordered through TEFAF.

Editor’s note: Due to a request from Arts Economics, the creator of the report, all of the charts that were originally part of this post have been removed.

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  • thorn

    These figures are obscene and the greedy dealers are still crying poverty when workers ask for modest raises.

  • Linda Eichorst

    I think I’m even more depressed than before! I guess I need to know what’s going on in the global art world, but I kinda wished I had skipped this article. I think I will play with the dogs and then go on out to the studio to paint. I need cheering up.

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