The global art market has withstood the pandemic crisis, with a record increase in online sales in 2020, with women collectors spending larger amounts than their male counterparts, according to the fifth annual “Art Basel & UBS Global Art Market Report”, edited by the distinguished economist Dr. Clare McAndrew, specialist in cultural economics.

This macroeconomic analysis, which this year examines the movement and size of the international art market during a pandemic, incorporates research data involving 2,569 High Net Worth collectors from 10 markets (USA, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Mexico and Mainland China).

Total online art sales of $ 12.4 billion

According to the survey, global sales of works of art and antiques were around $ 50.1 billion in 2020, down 22% after 2019, but still managed to maintain a higher level than the record low in 2009 (-36%), the year of recession. The US market holds the lead, with a 42% share in the value of global sales, while mainland China emerged as the largest public auction market. The pandemic accelerated the digital transformation of the market, creating more opportunities for the immediate adoption of innovative practices, as a large number of exhibitions and fairs with physical presence were canceled.

Despite the general decline in sales, total online sales managed to reach the impressive record amount of $12.4 billion, doubling their value since 2019. For the first time, in fact, with a percentage of 25%, the share of electronic trade in the art market surpassed that of general retail.

The pandemic boosted the active interest of most collectors in enriching their collections, although they had fewer opportunities to acquire works of art in person, with 57% of them planning to increase their purchases.

Women showed stronger purchasing power – Instagram dominates

The outcomes of research by UBS and Art Basel show that women have displayed a stronger purchasing power, as well as an upward trend in artistic representation. On the one hand, they spent more money than men – average purchases increased by 13% reaching $ 154,000 – and on the other hand, the percentage of works bearing the signature of female artists seems to be steadily improving: 39% in 2020 from 33% in 2018.

The next generation of collectors to invest heavily are the millennial High Net Worth collectors: 30% spent over $ 1 million last year. At the same time, they have been a more active generation on the internet, reporting more frequent use of both the available (from the digital editions of exhibitions) online viewing rooms / OVR and the social networking channels. About a third of those collectors who shopped said they acquired the artwork of their choice via Instagram.

“2020 marked a turning point for digital innovation in the art market. The pandemic has shown that we need art to uplift us, to express our views and feelings and, ultimately, to find joy in these difficult times,” said Christl Novakovic, CEO of UBS Europe SE, Head of Wealth Management Europe and Chairman of the UBS Art Board.

“The drop in sales was inevitable. The art trade, however, has shown incredible resilience in the way it has adapted to new data and the challenges posed by the pandemic crisis. While businesses are still trying to figure out how to balance the new form of the market, increasingly based on the internet, with the shared experience and excitement of physical sales and events, few consider these changes as temporary,” said economist Clare McAndrew, founder of Arts Economics.