The Art Market Reached $65.1bn in 2021, McAndrew Reports

Clare McAndrew's annual report for UBS & Art Basel sees strong performance for auction houses and US market

Marion Maneker

Tue, Mar 29, 2022

The Art Market Reached $65.1bn in 2021, McAndrew Reports
Dr. Clare McAndrew (Courtesy of Art Basel)

Clare McAndrew’s report on the state of the art market in 2021 is out and the numbers are both what you would expect and somewhat surprising. The thing we all know is that the art market was vibrant and successful in 2021. In a rare Goldilocks moment, all sectors of the market—Masterpieces, emerging talent, digital works—seemed to perform well. And all sectors of the globe—Europe, Asia and the Americas—were all buying. That activity added up, according to McAndrew, to $65.1 billion in sales both publicly and in private.

Because private sales are not registered anywhere, that number remains speculative. McAndrew’s long tenure in this role as the art market’s chief economist makes it more authoritative as her methods have remained consistent over the 17 years she’s been issuing this report under the sponsorship of various art fairs.

The $65.1 billion number is a 29% rise from 2020. But the auction houses saw a greater jump with their turnover going up 47% from 2020 to 2021. Dealers only saw an 18% increase in sales. The United States remains the dominant venue for selling art with 43% of sales. China is 20% of the market and the UK has fallen to 17%. France made up some of the ground lost in Europe by the UK.

In dollar terms, the global market breaks down as $28 billion in the US; $13.4 billion in China; and $11.3 billion in UK sales last year. Sales in France were up 50% to $4.7 billion.

Even though the dealers saw the smallest rise in sales, according to McAndrew’s estimates, the sector still accounts for the majority of overall sales. McAndrew calculates that at $34.7 billion. In 2021, the price point that saw the biggest rise was sales between $5 and $10 million.

Finally, online sales had jumped from 12% in 2019 to 30% in 2020 for obvious reasons related to the pandemic but then settled down to 20% in 2021 as there were respites from the lockdowns and closures.

At auction, Post-War and Contemporary art accounted for $6.7 billion in sales. That’s 55% of the market. 21st Century works were $2.5 billion of that total. That’s twice what they were in 2020. Modern art was slightly higher than 21st Century art with $2.7 billion in sales.

McAndrew also tracks what collectors spend on art. According to her surveys, they more than quadrupled the value of their median spending on art from 2019 to 2021. In 2019, the median spend by a collector for the year was $72,000. Last year, that number was $274,000. The unprecedented liquidity of the pandemic years has welled up in the art market.