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Visitors to Art Basel’s Hong Kong edition this May. Photo: Art Basel.
Visitors to Art Basel’s Hong Kong edition this May. Photo: Art Basel.

Art Basel UBS Report Suggests Galleries’ Recovery Gaining Strength

Citing “resilience” as the buzzword characterizing the international art scene, a mid-year survey released today by Art Basel and UBS and written by Clare McAndrew shows gallery sales up 10 percent globally in the first half of 2021 over the preceding year. And while 23 percent of galleries were forced to cut staff in 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic surged, 25 percent hired new employees in the first half of this year, and 50 percent said sales had improved over the previous year. Despite the good news, many of those reporting an increase in fortune were larger galleries, which reported a 21 percent increase in sales year-over-year, while smaller and midsize dealers are still struggling to survive, with the former reporting a slight dip in sales and the latter a decrease of 3 percent.

Also of note: NFTs appeared to eat into the profits of many brick-and-mortar galleries, with European galleries seeing a slide of 7 percent. McAndrew contended that galleries might ultimately benefit from the rise of the digital format, noting, “As more art is sold online and outside the traditional gallery framework, their critical role in establishing and managing the careers of artists has also been highlighted.” As well, the demand for physical works is seen as being pent-up in the trailing wake of the pandemic, a boon to dealers: Roughly 70 percent of the survey’s respondents said they planned to buy a painting in the second half of 2021, with sculptures, prints and works on paper named thereafter in successive order.

The Asian art market continued to heat up, with galleries in the region reporting an 18 percent gain in sales. Online sales continued to surge as well, with galleries making 37 percent of total sales in the arena. Fueling it all are the superwealthy, who from the warm confines of their sprawling estates spent 42 percent more on art during the first half of 2021 than they did during the same period last year.