Art Basel and UBS mid-year review 2021 reveals recovering sales as collectors remain strongly engaged

More than half of dealers reporting an increase in the first half of 2021

  • Median expenditure by HNW collectors grows – with online channels remaining significant
  • Appetite for digital art grows

UBS and Art Basel today jointly published a 2021 mid-year review ‘Resilience in the Dealer Sector’, authored by renowned cultural economist Dr. Clare McAndrew. In the lead-up to Art Basel’s return to Basel, September 24-26, 2021, the survey presents an analysis of the global dealer sector in the first half of 2021 amidst the continued challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on the employment structures and sales. The analysis is based on responses from over 700 dealers operating in art and antiques markets in 54 regions or countries. It also integrates fresh insights from a survey of 500 high-net-worth (HNW) collectors, conducted by Arts Economics and UBS Investor Watch, across five markets (the US, the UK, Hong Kong SAR (China), Germany, and Switzerland), as well as data from UBS Evidence Lab.    

The key findings include: 

  • Sales and leading markets: Just over half (51%) of dealers surveyed reported an increase in sales in the first half of 2021 versus the same period in 2020. Asian dealers reported the biggest improvement in sales, increasing 18% on average, including a rise of 6% for businesses in Greater China. The most challenging environment was reported by dealers in Europe, with an average decline in sales across the region of 7%.
  • Digital acceleration continues: online channels remained significant, accounting for 33 % of all dealers’ sales (or 37 %, including art fair Online Viewing Rooms) which is more than double their share in 2019. The largest share of online sales were made via dealers’ own online channels (their websites and OVRs, social media channels or via email). Online sales to new buyers expanded, accounting for 38 % of all online sales by value, with a further 25 % to existing clients that were buying online for the first time in 2021.
  • Dealers are optimistic: 91 % of dealers surveyed estimated that their sales would either increase or remain stable over the next 12 months, with only 9 % predicting a decline.
  • HNW Collector Survey Insights, conducted by Arts Economics and UBS Investor Watch:
    • Global Wealth and Art Buyers: in the first half of 2021 the median expenditure spent on art and antiques by HNW collectors surveyed saw a substantial increase of 42 % on average to USD 242000 compared to USD 170000 in the full year 2020. The advance was driven largely by millennial collectors who had the highest spending overall at USD 378000, more than three times the level of their older peers (Gen X: USD 118000, Boomers: USD 100000) and more than double their own level in 2019. Millennial HNW collectors purchased on average 15 artworks (versus Gen X: 9, Boomers: 2) in 2021. Female HNW collectors spent more than their male counterparts, and their spending has grown at a much faster pace since 2019. In the first half of 2021, spending by female collectors increased by just over one third to USD 410,000, more than double the level of their male counterparts, which saw growth from 2020 of just 9 % to USD 163000.
    • Digital art: 16 % of works owned by HNW collectors surveyed were digital, film and video art, showing the growing significant of these mediums. In the first half of 2021, digital art accounted for 12 % of their median expenditure, while paintings, sculpture and works on paper accounted for 31 %. When asked what kind of art they were interested in purchasing over the next 12 months, 48 % of the collectors surveyed were interested in buying digital art works.
    • Channels: dealers and galleries were the most commonly used sales channels, with 82 % of the HNW collectors surveyed having purchased through a dealer in the first half 2021. They were also the most preferred choice over online marketplaces.
    • Event attendance: HNW collectors surveyed plan to attend 40 events in 2021 in total, just one less than the average reported pre-COVID 2019, which reflects their considerable enthusiasm regarding the second half of 2021.
    • Sustainability: 77 % of HNW collectors surveyed are thinking about sustainable options when it comes to purchasing works of art or the management of their collections.

In addition to the UBS and Arts Economics research collaboration on the HNW collectors survey, the report includes an economic perspective from UBS CIO and latest insights on US foot traffic statistics to galleries and museums and US job seeker confidence from UBS Evidence Lab, an alternative data provider within UBS.

Christl Novakovic, CEO UBS Europe SE and Head Wealth Management Europe and Chair of the UBS Art Board said: “UBS believes in the power of art to connect people for a better world. Out of crisis springs innovation and drive for change. The fallout from the pandemic offers us a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at markets, the evolving role of gallerists and dealers and help rebuild them in a more sustainable manner. Our findings demonstrate that digital acceleration continues apace, bringing with it evolutions and challenges to traditional market structures, along with new business opportunities.”

Clare McAndrew, Founder, Arts Economics said: “While art sales have been relatively resilient during the crisis, some of the biggest fears for dealer sector have centered on employment. This research has uncovered some promising signs that some job losses have been recouped in 2021, along with indications of transformations within the industry that will continue to affect working practices in future. While some aspects of work are changing, a constant in the sector is the dominance of high knowledge, gender balanced employment. The research showed that, alongside the quality of the work and artists they offered, dealers are valued by collectors most for their knowledge and expertise as well as the long-term focus and trust built into their relationships. As more art is sold online and outside the traditional gallery framework, their critical role in establishing and managing the careers of artists has also been highlighted.“

Marc Spiegler, Global Director, Art Basel said: “Arriving on the heels of one of the most challenging and transformative years for the global art market, Clare McAndrew’s Mid-Year Review provides critical insights on the continued effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on dealers in particular. Much has now been learned especially about the digital strategies adapted the year prior, which will inform their longer-term applications. The report also reveals that the remarkably robust and continued interest in collecting is a key driver in the sector’s recovery, as collectors remain eager to engage in art buying with dealers and galleries in person once more.“

The findings of this survey will be discussed in an expert panel at Art Basel which will also be livestreamed as a webcast. Please check http://www.ubs.com /collecting for updates.

UBS at Art Basel To mark Art Basel, UBS presents a new exhibition and projects that highlight the power of art to inspire positive change. ‘Reimagining: A Better World’ is an exhibition of works from the UBS Art Collection that address today’s most pressing issues. The exhibition is available free online via the virtual UBS Art Gallery (September 16-November 28), and will also be on display in the UBS Lounge at Art Basel. In the UBS Art Studio, in the public area of Art Basel, two projects focus on the role art can play in making the world a better place: ‘Little Sun’ is an organization founded by Olafur Eliasson, and features a project by artist collaborative ‘Ghost of a Dream’ to raise funds for solar lamps in regions without access to electricity. Bottletop will present flags designed by artist Morag Myerscough to raise awareness of UN Sustainable Development Goal 7: Affordable and Clean Energy. Each is treated with Ultra-Violet Photocatalysis, a process which actively purifies the air. At the Fondation Beyeler (September 21), Olafur Eliasson will discuss his practice in conversation with Hans Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director, Serpentine Galleries, London, as part of UBS’s ongoing Artist Talks programme, which invites leading contemporary artists to speak about their work.

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