Inflation Fueling Red-Hot Art Market? High Prices Draw More Sellers

The art market is tracking for record highs, says UBS and Art Basel.

A visitor walks past an art installation during Art Basel Miami Beach.

A visitor walks past an art installation during Art Basel Miami Beach.

Photographer: Scott McIntyre/Bloomberg

It’s boom times for the art world as high-net-worth collectors flock to international shows in search of exciting new finds.

Buyers are bullish about the global art market’s outlook as an influx of works that have been hidden in private collections for years are now getting consigned. Rising prices have played a role, said dealers at the Art Basel show in Switzerland this summer.

In a report released by Art Basel and UBS on Thursday called The Collectors Report, spending has been on the rise with the median expenditure in the first half of the year at $180,000, compared to $164,000 for all of 2021, and $100,000 in 2019.

The share of collectors buying works priced at over $1 million nearly doubled from 12% in 2021 to 23% in the first half of 2022, on par with levels reported in similar surveys in 2019.

Auction sales are up, too. Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips reported an increase of 21% over the same period last year. The number of art fairs have also jumped 20% and is nearing pre-pandemic levels.

And trade activity is strong with imports of art and antiques up 41% and exports up 38% from 2020 to 2021.

The survey, conducted in August, asked 2,709 individuals with at least $1 million in investable assets about their global collecting activity across 11 markets, including the US, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and Brazil.

“If growth continues at the same pace in the second half of 2022, cross-border trade could reach record levels in the major markets for art,” the report said.

This bodes well for Art Basel taking place in Miami next month. At recent art fairs, prices were high, but people were buying despite economic uncertainty.

Amid unprecedented crowds at Frieze London last month, Pace Gallery Chief Executive Officer Marc Glimcher told Bloomberg that wealthy collectors remain unfazed.

“Any macroeconomic downturn has to last quite a while to really impact us,” he said, explaining it would take about a year and a half of relentless bad news to make people’s art buying habits change.

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