Despite a turbulent 2022, wealthy collectors are buying more – and pricier – art

The new Art Basel & UBS global collectors survey finds that they are on track to more than double their 2021 spendin

Brian Boucher

The global art market may be headed for an exceptionally strong year, according to the findings of A Survey of Global Collecting in 2022, co-published by Art Basel and UBS, prepared by Dr. Clare McAndrew, Founder of Arts Economics. The survey is based on interviews with more than 2,700 collectors in 11 regions, making it the largest of its kind. It finds that collectors are willing to visit global art fairs despite the continuing pandemic, and that they are optimistic about the art market despite rising inflation and the unabating conflict resulting from Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Here are seven key takeaways from the report.

1. High net worth collectors are overwhelmingly confident
More than three quarters (78%) of collectors surveyed were optimistic about the art market in the remainder of 2022 — a little more than were hopeful about the stock market (75%). More than half (55%) planned to buy art in the next six months and, promising an ongoing supply, 39% aimed to sell works from their holdings.

2. Spending in the first half of 2022 nearly doubled that in all of 2019
These collectors’ expenditure on art in the first half of 2022, at USD 180,000, already nearly doubled their spending in the entire pre-pandemic year of 2019 (USD 100,000), and is notably higher than in the entire year of 2021 (when they spent USD 164,000). And they’re not putting their wallets away. They plan to more than double their 2021 spending by year’s end.

They’re also buying more expensive art than last year. The share of collectors purchasing works priced at more than USD 1 million nearly doubled from 2021, from 12% to 23%. This is similar to the price levels at which they bought in 2019.

3. Collectors are buying more NFTs, not fewer
The widely reported ‘crypto winter’ hasn’t cooled these collectors’ appetites for digital works, including NFTs. On the contrary, in the first half of 2022 alone, the collectors surveyed shelled out an average of USD 46,000 on art-based NFTs, more than what they spent in the entirety of 2021 (USD 44,000) and 2019 (USD 35,000). A robust 17% of their spending was on digital art, including 10% linked to an NFT.

4. There’s nothing like the real thing…
Collectors are still eager to travel to view works in person at art fairs despite the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas just over half of collectors (54%) had bought an artwork after viewing it in person at an art fair in the first six months of 2021, nearly three-quarters (74%) had done so in the first half of 2022.

5. …but online spending is here to stay
Even as they visited art fairs and galleries near and far, more wealthy collectors showed a willingness to buy online. When buying from a dealer, fewer collectors said they preferred to transact in person at a gallery than in 2020 (42%, down from 57%), while even more said they preferred buying online than in 2020 (37%, up from 29%).

But older collectors reported a much higher inclination to buy in person; more than half of the Boomers surveyed (55%) preferred to buy at a gallery, while only 28% of Gen Z collectors shared that preference.

6. Gallerists are at the top of the heap
Gallerists and dealers remain the most-favored channel for collectors, with nearly all collectors (93%) purchasing through a dealer, whether at their gallery, at a fair, or online. Nearly half of their spending on art (45%) was via a dealer. And they bought slightly less at auction than in 2021 (17% compared to 20%).

7. Collectors will pay a premium for sustainability
The art industry’s carbon footprint has been the subject of much hand-wringing. Collectors surveyed increasingly say it’s important to pursue greater sustainability, for example moving toward digital-only catalogs and using lower-impact shipping and handling methods.

In fact, collectors are more willing in 2022 to pay a premium for sustainable options for buying art, with 98% amenable to a 5% increase (up from 90% in 2019), 86% happy to pay 10% more (up from 68% in 2019), and 57% prepared to fund a 25% sustainability premium (up from 45% in 2019).

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