The annual Art Industry Trends Report from Artsy covers key issues for commercial art galleries today. For the recently published 2023 report Artsy ran an online survey that garnered responses from 886 gallery professionals and dealers in 85 countries (though 41% of the respondents are actually in the States, so there will be a geographical skew).
Still, there are some interesting nuggets in the report … and a few points of issue. There’s little detail in Artsy’s conclusions, for instance; recording that 66% of galleries raised prices in 2022 doesn’t tell you much about amount prices were hiked – a sales increase could be 1% or 100%.
But the report isn’t about numbers so much as sentiment: how gallerists feel about their business, and how they feel that it’s changing. Maybe Artsy could have asked some explicit questions about this, in particular to gauge confidence: are you optimistic about the future? And if so, why?
On with the highlights:
This is a tricky opener. Artsy separates contemporary art into ten categories, not all of which feel sensible. Abstract paintings are listed with neo–abstract expressionism, minimalism and conceptual art; there are artists who would feel that they could appear in any or all of those.
It’s probably better to take the broad-brush approach of separating figurative from non-figurative works – which, to be fair, Artsy does in its commentary. So 59% of respondents said non-figurative paintings were most important to their business now; and 45% rated figurative painting highest.
There’s a methodological issue with this approach. Galleries were obviously able to nominate more than one genre of painting as important to their business, and that obviously skews the figures (which ideally ought to add up to 100% if you’re looking for relative importance).
Nor is it clear how things are changing. How does the 2023 sentiment compare with say pre-Covid 2019? Interestingly, Artsy did ask how things would change in the future – and only 46% of galleries chose the non-figurative categories as being most important for their future business. Up-and-coming styles cited include queer art, video art, and Afrofuturism. But since figurative work and landscapes are also expected to be less significant, maybe this is a reflection of gallerists identifying niches that might one day be rolled into those broader categories …
The report says the hybrid online/in-person model is becoming entrenched, and “a balance between the physical and digital is key”. The largest group of respondents (38%} told Artsy that their online sales volume increased between 2021 and 2022, another 34% said it remained consistent.
The online route is confirmed as a key way of connecting with new collectors – 51% of the galleries surveyed described their online buyers as mostly new to them, online 12% said that most of their online buyers were already known to their business.
And online is clearly as the go-to sales channel for new and smaller galleries. Some 56% of galleries with more than 10 full-time employees and 45% of those with fewer than 10 selected online marketplaces as a growing source of sales. Across all galleries, it was named as 46% (second in the catalogue of sources is Instagram at 32%, by the way).
An inevitable theme is the continuing global economic and political uncertainty, reflected especially in inflation being named the main cause of artwork price increases (the IMF reported 8% inflation for the world economy in 2022, against 3.4% in 2021 and 1.9% in 2020).
Artsy says 66% of gallerists who sell a majority of primary-market works reported a rise in prices, either significantly or slightly; only a quarter reported no change. Price hikes aren’t so bad in the secondary market, where 46% of specialising galleries noted price increases and 29% said there had been no change.
Still, the second most important reason for price hikes was secondary-market demand. Artsy attributes that to “collectors’ appetite for the limited supply of artworks by a finite number of trendy artists”.
Artsy confirms that younger galleries sell to younger collectors. Of galleries that have been in business for less than three years (a fifth of the total respondents in the survey), 59% say collectors in the 35-55 age range are their highest spenders. For older galleries, this group was ranked most important for 46% of respondents ,with 41% citing buyers aged 55 and up.
Younger galleries also go for younger artists. The ultra-contemporaries (born after 1975) are viewed as most important to the current programme (60% of younger galleries, 42% of older galleries) and to future sales (47% and 32%).
Unsurprisingly, Instagram presents a distinction between the galleries: almost twice as many of the less-than-three-years galleries selected the social media app as a significant marketing method – 24% of younger galleries, 13% of the elderly.
Both groups of galleries say that most sales occur through existing gallery clients and new shows at their physical spaces. But when asked to rate the significance of different revenue sources, existing clients were ranked the more important by older galleries, followed by new shows at their physical spaces. For younger galleries, the order is reversed.
More than half of Artsy’s respondents said they sign up new artists as contacts from other artists. The second most important route to finding artists is Instagram, which if nothing else suggests that new and emerging artists who want a gallery show should invest heavily in Instagramming – more than 61% of newer galleries (less than three years old) say they use Instagram to find new artists.