Asia’s new rich help to cushion global market’s $10bn fall


Total sales in the global art market shrank by 11% in 2016 to $57bn, a fall of more than $10bn from an all-time high of $68bn in 2014, is the headline finding of a report by the economist Clare McAndrew, which was released as we went to press.

Speaking ahead of the publication of The Art Market 2017 during Art Basel in Hong Kong on 22 March, McAndrew said: “There have been two years of decline, but that was after such a high peak, so we are not back to the situation in 2009—and even then it bounced back quickly.” There are so many global buyers now, unlike in the 1980s, when it took the market 15 years to recover, she added.

The choice of Hong Kong to launch the first report by the founder of Art Economics for Switzerland-based Art Basel, in collaboration with the Swiss bank UBS, is appropriate given another key finding: for the first time, the number of high-net-worth individuals is greater in Asia-Pacific than in North America. McAndrew also noted that there are 1.7 million millionaires in China and Hong Kong, and Asia sees three new self-made billionaires minted every three days.

“There is a growing base of collectors globally,” said Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s global director, who rejects the idea that nouveau riche collectors from the region are mainly interested in market favourites, such as Warhol and Picasso, or homegrown equivalents.

The lack of supply of $1m-plus works sent to auction contributed to a sharp decline in sales, which fell 26% to $22bn. At the top end, sales fell by more than 50% at auctions last year as collectors held back works or chose private sales.

Dealer sales rose slightly by 3% to reach $32.5bn, although mid-range galleries continue to be under pressure. “It is the one area of the market that has been the most difficult to grow since 2009,” McAndrew said.

Meanwhile, Rachel Pownall, the author of this year’s Tefaf Art Market Report 2017, estimates that the global art market is now worth $45bn, an increase of 1.7% compared with 2015. Pownall estimates that global auction sales fell nearly 19% from 2015 to 2016.