The global art market grew 6% in 2018 to $67.4 billion in sales, according to economist Clare McAndrew’s report “The Art Market 2019,” released by Art Basel and UBS on Friday. That total makes 2018 the second-biggest year for the art market in the past decade, trailing only 2014 when sales totaled $68.2 billion.
The market is expanding into fewer hands, however, the report suggests. Despite the 6% growth, 57% of dealers saw their sales decline in 2018. This follows a trend over the past decade, during which the value of all sales has gone up 9%, while the number of artworks sold has gone down 9%.
In 2018, less than 5% of dealers accounted for 50% of the sector’s sales. Dealers in the two lowest brackets of annual turnover, sub-$250,000 and $250,000 to $500,000, saw sales decline by 18% and 4%, respectively, while dealers in the two highest brackets, $10 million to $50 million and $50 million-plus, saw their sales increase by 17% and 7%, respectively.
This uneven growth has been a subject of concern and conversation across the industry in the past year. Combined with anxieties over Brexit, the trade war between the United States and China, slowing global growth, and a sense of political uncertainty, it contributed to a general feeling of consternation within the industry about the immediate future.
Whereas, in 2017, 58% of dealers surveyed by McAndrew expected sales to go up the following year, this year’s report shows significantly lower confidence, with just 30% of dealers expecting their sales to increase in 2019. McAndrew said this apprehension reflects a general level of macroeconomic uncertainty to which smaller galleries and those that haven’t modernized their business practices are especially vulnerable.
“Those older business models are not working as well as they used to,” she said. “The market is fundamentally changing and the macro environment that people are working in is unpredictable.” McAndrew added that, among the roughly 6,500 dealers who responded to the survey on which the report’s data on gallery sales is based, many noted feeling that they had been fortunate to come out of 2018 in the black.