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The decline was evident in all three of the world's biggest art markets—the US, the UK and China—with auction sales falling sharply.

Dr Clare McAndrew. © Art Basel

The global art and antiques market dipped five percent to US $64.1b in 2019 according to the Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report 2020. Though the market is down from $68.2b in 2014, it was up considerably over the past decade, rising 62% from $39.5b in 2009.

Last year's decline was evident in all three of the world's biggest art markets: the United States, which constitutes 44% of the global market, the UK (20%) and China (18%).

China experienced the steepest drop, plunging 10% to $11.7b, while the UK fell 9% to $12.7b, and the US by 5% to $28.3b. The one major market to grow in 2019 was France, where sales rose 7% to $4.2b, increasing its share of the global market from 6% to 7%.

Written by Dr Clare McAndrew, the report found a decline in auction sales was largely responsible for the global art market dip. While gallery and dealer sales rose 2% to $36.8b, and art fair sales held even, growing less than 1% to $16.6b, auction sales fell a whopping 17% to $24.2b with double-digit declines across all three major markets.

Among galleries, 2019 was kinder to some than others. Galleries with turnover above $30m saw average growth of 16% while those with turnover under $250,000 saw a decline of 6%.

Wealthier galleries also attended more art fairs, which contributed disproportionately to their total sales. Galleries with annual sales exceeding $10m exhibited at eight fairs compared to the average of four, and work sold at fairs made up 47% of their revenues compared to just 30% for dealers with annual turnover under $500,000.

The report also found that online sales fell 2% to $5.9b in 2019, the first time they've fallen in the past five years. The importance of online sales is likely to increase in 2020, however, due to the spread of COVID-19. Already, Art Basel is promoting a new online platform to make up for the cancellation of Art Basel Hong Kong, and museums and galleries in China and the Middle East are pivoting towards online exhibitions.

The art market employed an estimated 3 million people in 2019 with approximately 310,810 businesses operating in the global art, antiques and collectibles market, according to the report. —[O]

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