After two years of disruption from the global pandemic, 2022 was anticipated as the year the art market would return to a more regular momentum. Early in the year there were predictions of a boom in sales as the full art fair calendar resumed and auctions featured high profile collections. Collector sentiment surveys conducted mid-year also indicated optimistic buying plans. But in reality, while the year was certainly marked by exceptional sales and events, the overall results were much more mixed, with variation in performance by sector, region, and segment resulting in more muted growth than anticipated.
The COVID-19 pandemic created a very difficult operating context for the art trade, with restrictions on operations, travel, exhibitions, and events all contributing to a contraction in sales of 22% in 2020 to $50.3 billion, its lowest point since the global financial crisis in 2009. However, just as the market bounced back in 2010, sales also recovered quickly in 2021, driven by both the rapid adaption of the art trade to digital channels and strong sales at the high end of the market buoyed by the expanding wealth and spending power of high-net- worth (HNW) collectors. As nearly all regions and most segments recovered in 2021, values reached $65.9 billion, an increase of 31% from 2020, bringing the market higher than its pre- pandemic level in 2019.
Collectors and those in the art trade began 2022 with a highly optimistic outlook as sales and events resumed a more regular pace in most regions. The first half of the year was marked by strong sales in the auction sector, with many record prices achieved. There were positive indicators from the dealer sector with busy fairs and exhibitions. However, as the year progressed the context proved to be more challenging than anticipated, with political and economic instability, the intensifying war in Ukraine, rapidly increasing inflation rates, supply issues, and looming recessions in key markets. In the last quarter particularly, despite the headline-grabbing $1.6 billion Paul Allen sale at Christie’s in New York, the market appeared overstimulated and began to cool, with reports of more subdued bidding and buying at events. Tight zero-COVID policies in China also meant the cancellation of many events and auction sales in the region throughout the year, which took a heavy toll on the art market’s growth. High transmission rates from the abrupt end of these regulations at the start of 2023 have continued to cause short-term disruptions. While the other major markets including the US and UK posted positive results, this divergence in performance created more subdued growth, with global sales increasing by just 3% year-on-year to an estimated $67.8 billion.
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