Art and the very rich: is there enough to go round?

Crisis? What crisis? Despite the predictions of post-Covid gloom, widespread economic despondency as inflation his new peaks, the wars continuing around the world, the growth of rabid populism, and imminent global environmental disaster, it seems the rich are feeling pretty bullish. That at least is one conclusion from A Survey of Global Collecting in 2022, prepared for Art Basel and UBS by Clare McAndrew, Founder of Arts Economics and doyenne of financial information about the art market.

The survey is the largest of its kind, being based on interviews with more than 2,700 high net worth collectors (meaning people who spends a minimum of $10,000 on art annually) in 11 regions.

More than three quarters (78 percent) of the collectors surveyed were optimistic about the art market in the remainder of 2022 — 78 percent expressed confidence in the art business, a tad more than were hopeful about the stock market (75 percent). More than half of them are planning to buy art in the next six months; and 39 percent say they’re expecting to sell works from their holdings. The speculation is that in turbulent financial times art is a relative safe haven when it comes to asset classes.

The difference between the 54 percent who say they’ll wanting to buy something this year and the 39 percent who’ll be selling implies that there might be a shortage of art for the would-be buyers to buy, which in turn could translate into higher prices (if it’s a seller’s market) or more sales for emergent artists (if sufficient new supply is fed into the pipeline at the bottom by dealers).

The number dollars moving around is impressively: spending per head in the first half of 2022 nearly doubled that in the entire pre-pandemic year of 2019 – $180,000 against $100,000 – and they don’t intend to stop: they plan to more than double their spend last year ($164,000 in 2021) by the end of this year.

The share of purchases valued above $1 million also grew, from 12 percent in 2021 to 23 percent. That was enabled by the full return of auction house sales and art fairs, though obviously fuelled by the upward drift in average prices.

Some other takeaways:

The decline of NFTs has been misreported (or maybe just misunderstood). In the first half of 2022 alone, the collectors surveyed each bought an average of $46,000 of art-based NFTs, more than what they spent in the whole of 2021 ($44,000) and 2019 ($35,000). These aren’t massive numbers, of course, and it’s not clear whether the buyers surveyed are using the crypto platforms where most of the BFT action seems to be.

HNWIs like to see art up close and personal (or maybe they just like networking and being schmoozed).Despite the continuing Covid-19 issues. Nearly three quarters of those polled had bought an artwork after viewing it in person at an art fair in the first six months of 2022 against 54 percent who did that in the first half of 2021.

…but online is here to stay … At the same time gallery transactions seem to be drifting online; when buying from a dealer, fewer collectors said they preferred to transact in person at a gallery than in 2020 (42 percent, down from 57 percent), while even more said they preferred buying online than in 2020 (37 percent, up from 29 percent).

… and so are dealers. Whether buying at a fair, online, or in a gallery, nearly all collectors (93 percent) purchased through a dealer, and nearly half of their total spending on art (45 percent) was via a dealer.

You can check it all out for yourself: the free download is here.

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