The UK overtakes China as the second-largest market and other key findings from The Art Market | 2019

Millennial collectors mature, art fairs remain strong, and despite recent gains, women still lag behind

The Art Market | 2019 has just been released. Authored by Dr. Clare McAndrew, founder of Arts Economics, it offers a unique insight into the developments of the art market in 2018. We have plucked 10 key facts, from new collector approaches to resounding auction records by artists both alive and deceased.

Detail from a work by Haegue Yang, on view at Barbara Wien's booth at Art Basel in Basel 2018.
Detail from a work by Haegue Yang, on view at Barbara Wien's booth at Art Basel in Basel 2018.

Market: a reshuffle at the top
While the US remains the world’s largest art market, the UK regained its second position with 21% of the total global share by value, followed closely by China with 19%. Together, they represent 84% of the market by value. Looming trade wars and debt crises may explain cautious buying and a contraction in the supply of high-quality works. These factors led to declining values in the dominant Chinese auction sector.

Detail from a work by Josh Kline, on view at 47 Canal's booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2018.
Detail from a work by Josh Kline, on view at 47 Canal's booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2018.

Market: a workforce to be reckoned with
In 2018, 2.7 million people were employed worldwide in the gallery and dealer sector. Furthermore, it is estimated that, in 2018, the global art trade spent USD 20.2 billion on a range of external support services directly linked to their businesses, supporting 375,030 further jobs. The gender balance in the dealer sector was predominantly female: Women made up almost two-thirds of the workforce.

Detail from a work by Belén Uriel, on view at Madragoa's booth at Art Basel in Miami Beach 2018.
Detail from a work by Belén Uriel, on view at Madragoa's booth at Art Basel in Miami Beach 2018.

Art fairs: despite the insecurity, a reliable platform
Art fair sales are estimated to have reached USD 16.5 billion in 2018, a rise of 6% year-on-year. Their role in galleries’ turnover is more crucial than ever: The share of the total value of global dealer sales made at art fairs grew from less than 30% in 2010 to 46% in 2018. While the model of the art fair has been challenged in recent months, they remain very strong sales platforms.

Detail from a work by Bernard Frize, on view at Simon Lee's booth at Art Basel in Basel 2018.
Detail from a work by Bernard Frize, on view at Simon Lee's booth at Art Basel in Basel 2018.

Dealers: a reliance on their rosters’ top performers
An impressive new finding in this year’s report is the extent of dealers’ reliance on their best-performing artists. For galleries working solely in the primary market, almost two-thirds of their total sales in 2018 came from their top three artists. What’s more, 42% of these sales were generated by one leading artist only. 

Detail from a work by Joan Mitchell, on view at Van de Weghe's booth at Art Basel in Basel 2018.
Detail from a work by Joan Mitchell, on view at Van de Weghe's booth at Art Basel in Basel 2018.

Dealers: long-term relationships with collectors are more important than ever
In 2018, businesses in the dealer sector sold on average to 73 clients each, an increase of a third year-on-year. For dealers with a turnover of less than USD 1 million, new buyers accounted for 32% of their sales versus 25% and below for dealers with a turnover in excess of USD 1 million. The value of sales to longer-term buyers (collectors who have been clients for five years and more) rose considerably in the segments between USD 500,000 and USD 1 million and between USD 1 million and USD 10 million, increasing by 10% and 7% respectively on their share in 2017. 

A detail from a work by Derek Fordjour, on view at Josh Lilley's booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2018.
A detail from a work by Derek Fordjour, on view at Josh Lilley's booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2018.

Artists: A Chinese master leads at auctions
In the post-war and contemporary sector, Chinese master Zao Wou-Ki was last year’s highest-selling artist at auction. His works generated combined sales of USD 310 million, with Juin-Octobre 1985 (1985) selling for USD 65.2 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, setting a new record for an Asian oil painter, and becoming the most expensive work of art ever sold in Hong Kong. 

Detail from a work by Zao Wou-Ki, on view at Applicat-Prazan's booth at Art Basel in Miami Beach 2018.
Detail from a work by Zao Wou-Ki, on view at Applicat-Prazan's booth at Art Basel in Miami Beach 2018.

Artists: on gender balance, a sobering finding
The art market remains tarnished by gender imbalance. In 2018, 36% of artists represented by primary market galleries were female and accounted for an average of only a third of their annual turnover. In the secondary market sector, the numbers are much lower. There is a glimmer of hope, though: The highest representation of female artists can be found in galleries from Africa and the Middle East, across both the primary and secondary market.

Detail from a work by Aisha Khalid, on view at Zilberman's booth at Art Basel Hong Kong 2018.
Detail from a work by Aisha Khalid, on view at Zilberman's booth at Art Basel Hong Kong 2018.

Collectors: Millenials on the rise, particularly in Asia
Compared to the US, surveys of high net worth collectors revealed a very different age profile in newer markets in Asia. Almost half of the collectors surveyed in Singapore were millennial collectors, and they represented 39% of the total number of collectors in Hong Kong. Collectors from the millennial generation were considerably more active art buyers than others, with 69% having purchased fine art and 77% having purchased decorative art in the period from 2016 to 2018.

Detail from a work by Teppei Kaneuji, on view at Yumiko Chiba Associates' booth at Art Basel Hong Kong 2018.
Detail from a work by Teppei Kaneuji, on view at Yumiko Chiba Associates' booth at Art Basel Hong Kong 2018.

Collectors: passion beats financial motives
The majority of surveyed collectors (66%) reported that they have a collecting strategy, and only about 11% of collectors bought art primarily for investment purposes. The average collection size across all countries was 43 works, with the highest average in the UK (56) and smaller-than-average collections in Hong Kong and Japan, at 34. Almost a third of collectors used a dealer or a gallery for advice and services such as collection management. 

Detail from a work by Vivian Suter, on view at Barbara Gladstone's booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2018.
Detail from a work by Vivian Suter, on view at Barbara Gladstone's booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2018.

Auctions: new records for living artists
While deceased artists still generate higher sales than living ones at post-war and contemporary auction sales, works by living artists have set new records in 2018 – notably David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) from 1972, which fetched USD 90.3 million. The share of revenue generated through works by living artists at post-war and contemporary auctions in 2018 has grown mostly in the US: It reached 42% percent, up 10% from 2017. China remains the market with the highest share of sales by living artists, at 55% (down 2% on 2017).

Detail from a work by Rosario Zorraquin, on view at Isla Flotante's booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2018.
Detail from a work by Rosario Zorraquin, on view at Isla Flotante's booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2018.

Download The Art Market | 2019 here.

Top image: detail from a work by Artur Lescher, on view at Nara Roesler's booth at Art Basel Miami Beach 2018.