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Global sales in 2021 outstripped those in 2019, according to this year's annual report from Art Basel and UBS.

Art Market Overcomes Pandemic Downturn to Reach $65.1b in 2021

Troy Emery, Golden Dragon (2016). Polyester pompoms, polyurethane mannequin, rayon fringing, glue and pins. 45 x 37 x 35 cm. Courtesy Martin Browne Contemporary.

Global sales of art and antiques reached US $65.1 billion in 2021, marking a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels. Sales grew 29% last year to exceed the $64.1 billion raised in 2019.

The result follows the art market's biggest correction in a decade, when sales fell almost a quarter to an estimated $50.1 billion in 2020.

'The art market has demonstrated incredible resilience in 2021, with a strong uplift in aggregate sales, despite still operating under some very challenging conditions,' said Dr. Clare McAndrew, author of ​​The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2022.

All segments of the art market grew in 2021. The recovery was led by public auction sales, which increased by 47% to $26.3 billion, while the dealer market grew 18% to $34.7 billion. Sales at art fairs (including online viewing rooms) reached 29% of total sales in 2021, up 7% on 2020, but still far below the 43% reported in 2019.

Art Basel's global director, Marc Spiegler, noted that the art market's recovery, 'was very uneven, and particularly strong for major auction houses and galleries in the top echelons.'

The growth of online sales slowed to 7% in 2021—declining to a fifth of total sales from a quarter in 2020—as in-person events returned. However, they were still up significantly on 2019 when online sales made up just 9% of total sales.

'Dealers and auction houses successfully adjusted to a new two-tier system of online and offline sales and events, and the rising wealth of the high net worth collectors helped to support demand at the higher end of the market,' McAndrew said.

The report's figures did not take into account art-related NFTs, which generated an additional $2.6 billion in 2021. It did note, however, that the volume of art NFT transactions increased more than seven-fold in 2021, reaching 5.5 million from 756,000 in 2019. Notably, just 6% of dealers sold NFTs last year, but an additional 19% had plans to sell them in the next year or two.

According to a 2021 survey by Arts Economics and UBS Investor Watch, 74% of high net work collectors had purchased art-based NFTs at a median cost of $9,000 each. Almost 90% of these collectors were interested in purchasing NFT-based artworks in future. —[O]

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