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Art Market Bounces Back: Dealer Sales Reach Pre-Pandemic Levels in 2022 Despite Challenges

Iftikar Ahmed

According to the Art Basel and UBS Art Market Report 2023, dealer sales in the art market reached an estimated $37.2 billion in 2022, which is a 7% increase year-on-year. This figure restored the market to its value before the pandemic in 2019, showing a steady recovery.

The survey conducted by Art Basel and UBS Art Market report in 2022 revealed that businesses with high turnovers of over $10 million saw some of the largest increases in average sales values, at 19%. In contrast, smaller businesses struggled to attract price-conscious and cautious buyers, leading to stagnant sales, and a decline of 3% was reported for those with a turnover of less than $250,000. This segment also had the smallest rise in sales from 2020 to 2021, indicating a struggle for growth and expansion.

Despite the challenging conditions over the last two years, some galleries have been expanding their premises, both locally and internationally. The majority of dealers surveyed in 2022 operated from one gallery or site in one country, with a further 14% operating from one region but with more than one premises. 9% operated over multiple regions, and the remaining 6% had no physical premises.

Geographical Gallery Operations in 2022
Courtesy: Art Economics (2023)

Traditional mediums still dominated dealers’ sales, with paintings, sculptures, and works on paper accounting for 82% by value in 2022. However, the share of digital, film, and video art rose to 5%, indicating an emerging trend towards digital mediums. The majority of those sales (4%) were in digital art, and almost all (99%) were sales of digital art associated with NFTs.


Share of Total Sectors Operated in by Dealers Surveyed in 2022
Courtesy: Arts Economic (2023)

In 2022, dealers reported that sales from their single highest-selling artists accounted for an average of 31% of their total revenues, while their top three artists accounted for 51%. This distribution was slightly more pronounced for primary market dealers, with their top-selling artists accounting for 34% and the top three 56%. However, these shares have declined from 2018, when they were 42% and 63% respectively.

Sales at art fairs rose significantly in 2022, as dealers exhibited at the same number of fairs on average as they had in 2019. Sales from live events increased from 27% of total sales in 2021 to 35% in 2022 but remained significantly below pre-pandemic levels in 2019 (42%). The largest shares were reported by the biggest dealers, including 40% for those turning over more than $10 million, with the majority of sales taking place at international fairs.

Dealers’ Number of Years in Business in 2022 Courtesy: Arts Economics (2023)

Looking ahead, just over half (51%) of dealers predicted art fair sales would increase in 2023, with dealers with a turnover of greater than $10 million being the most optimistic. E-commerce sales, which experienced a rapid escalation in 2020, accounted for 39% of dealers’ sales. However, the share of online sales decreased to 22% in 2021 and further to 16% in 2022.

Maintaining relationships with existing collectors was a top priority for 65% of dealers in 2022, followed by attending art fairs. Online sales and exhibitions ranked third, indicating the dual focus of pursuing both online and offline strategies. Looking ahead for the next five years, these top priorities were unchanged, with the need to widen the geographical reach of their client base being a future priority.

The Art Basel and UBS Art Market report highlights the steady recovery of the art market, with dealers focusing on maintaining relationships with existing clients while pursuing new buyers. The report also shows emerging trends towards digital mediums and the continued importance of art fairs in the art market.

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