An expected downturn overall
In March 2018, Clare McAndrew’s report “The Art Market | 2018” indicated that in 2017, global sales increased 12 percent to $63.7 billion, marking a year-to-year increase after two years of declines. All signs point to 2018 also being an improvement on the prior year, with Sotheby’s up 11 percent and Christie’s up 6 percent. But McAndrew’s report also takes into account sales at fairs and galleries, so we won’t know for sure until March.
As for 2019, some are expecting there to be a downturn in sales compared to the last two years. During the Sotheby’s quarterly earnings call in November, CEO Tad Smith noted that potential consignors could be spooked by political destabilization in China and a fracturing economy in the United States, and opt to hold onto their masterworks. Overall, Smith said, the auction house was “planning for market conditions in 2019 to be a bit more subdued than what we experienced at the end of 2017 and into early 2018.”
“With respect to the market conditions, there are uncertainties, including political noise here and abroad, as well as rising interest rates and slowing global growth,” Smith added.
Smith and his colleagues usually treat the earnings call as a forum for spinning bad news in as positive a light as possible, so the bluntness of such a statement shows just how concerned the top brass at Sotheby’s is.