Art market surpassed pre-pandemic levels in 2021 with $65 billion in sales, report says

Topline

Art sales rose 29% last year to $65.1 billion, according to a report from Art Basel and UBS released on Tuesday, in a strong recovery from the pandemic slump driven by an increase in public auctions and online sales.

Highlights

The total, which includes sales of art and antiques by auction houses and dealers, also exceeds the $64.1 billion estimated UBS and Art Basel sales for 2019 in their annual report.

Public auctions jumped 47% to $26.3 billion in 2021, with in-person auctions paired with online live streams “being among the most successful,” according to the report.

Despite more in-person events last year, online sales grew 7% to $13.3 billion, accounting for 20% of the total market (this share is 5 percentage points lower than in 2020, when online auctions largely replaced live events, but is still more than double the 9% recorded in 2019, the report notes).

Signs of renewed market confidence included the return of more notable works to auction, according to the report, including the historic $676 million sale of the first half of the Macklowe collection – which is on course to beat the record for the largest public sale of an art treasure – a handful of rare paintings by Jean Michel-Basquiat and “Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Cockade” by old master Sandro Botticelli.

Large number

$103.4 million. It was the price of most expensive painting sold at auction last year, “Woman seated near a window (Marie-Thérèse) (1932)” by Pablo Picasso. The announced sale in April 2021 was widely seen as a test to assess the market after the previous year’s slump. The winning bid was almost double the painting’s estimate.

Tangent

The Art Basel and UBS annual report this year expanded from standard auction house and dealer territory to include non-fungible tokens. NFTs exploded in popularity last year, with sales of digital collectibles traded by Christie’s and Sotheby’s, albeit in “limited values ​​so far”, according to the report. Sales of NFTs from Christie’s brought in $150 million – including a record $69.3 million for a work by Beeple – while Sotheby’s reached $80 million. $4.6 million in 2019, according to the report, which used data from NonFungible.com.

To monitor

May the strong growth continue this year. Last week, Christie’s announced the auction of a rare Andy Warhol print of Marilyn Monroe with an estimate of $200 million, which the auction house said was the highest yet for a work of art. Leonardo DeVinci “salvador mundi” hit a record $450 million in 2017 after receiving a pre-sale estimate approximately $100 million. Another major auction on the horizon is the second half of the Macklowe Collection sale, which is expected to be held in May.

Further reading

A $55 million Picasso painting could signal that the art market is rebounding (Forbes)

Real estate mogul Harry Macklowe and his ex-wife’s art collection win $676 million in first of two auctions (Forbes)

Here’s why 2021 was the year of Jean-Michel Basquiat, decades after his death (Forbes)

What the most expensive painting of 2020 says about the art market (Forbes)

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