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Global Art Sales are down by 22% in 2020

Updated: Apr 3, 2021

Online sale reached a record high at $12.4 billion & UHN Millennials are rapidly becoming big spenders


As a result of the pandemic, the global art market saw a decline in sales of 22% from 2019 to 2020. The major international art hubs--the US, the UK and Greater China--contributed to this decline; however, they remained the key majority stakeholders in the overall market, with 82% of total sales (50.1 billion) in 2020. The US retained its position as global leader with 42% of the global sales value.

Nonetheless, the outlook for 2021-2022 looks optimistic, in light of the return to normalcy, and growth in online sales, private sales, and new collectors to the market.

Dealer Sales in 2020

Yearly dealer sales were down by 23% from 2019. Dealers with turnover greater than $10 million had significant declines of 31%. By reducing major operation costs, many dealers were able to mitigate the losses. Despite the decline, many dealers look optimistically ahead to 2021 with a focus on client development, online sales and art fairs.

Auction Sales

At $17.6 billion, public auction sales were down in 2020 by 30% from 2019. However, private sales were up by 36% for the same period. The US, the UK and China maintained their positions as leaders in the global market with 81% of the public auction sales by value. Traditional offline public art auction sales over $1M made up 58% of the total value of sales for 2020--while online only sales between $5,000-250,000 made up 67% of the value. Post-War and Contemporary made up 55% of the total market, and adding in Modern, the percentage for the three climbed to 81% of the total value.

Art Fairs and Exhibitions

2020 started off with 365 global art fairs in the works: 61% of these planned art fairs were cancelled, 37% went ahead with live events, and the remaining 2% went hybrid. Although the world did not see many live events in 2020, 41% of high net worth clients still purchased through an art fair, with another 45% purchasing through an online viewing room.

Online Sales

With live auctions in decline, online sales doubled in value, reaching a record high of $12.4 billion in 2020. For the first time ever, sales using the art market’s ecommerce platforms exceeded sales of general retail. The greatest growth was in sales $10M plus. Collectors are becoming more savvy, and are visiting online viewing rooms in greater numbers. They also prefer when prices are listed and transparent.

Global Wealth and HNW Collector Perspectives 

High net worth clients are as active as ever, according to surveys done by Arts Economics and UBS Investor Watch. Of 2,569 HNW clients, 66% had reportedly increased their buying interest from 2019. Those who led the charge? Millennials were the highest spenders, lapping the Boomers. The preferred venue of choice was a gallery or a dealer. Looking ahead, we can conclude that HNW collectors will continue to be active in 2021, with over half looking to buy and over a third to sell.

Economic Impact and Conclusion

Although there has been a downturn in employment in 2020 in both the gallery and auction sectors, the overall 2021 art industry looks to a positive future with revenue and resources being reinvested into digital platforms to foster new growth and opportunities.


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