Art market update: Spring sales will test market resilience
After robust sales increases in both 2021 and 2022, sellers at May’s New York auctions are eager to see how buyers react to this year's unsettled economy.
The first half of 2023 will be a key test of the global art market’s resilience in the face of macroeconomic and geopolitical headwinds. During the art market’s post-pandemic recovery, sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips jumped 70% year-over-year in 2021 and another 13% in 2022,1 setting an all-time high for the global auction market of $65.1 billion.2 Now, in a macro environment characterized by decades-high inflation levels, continued Federal Reserve interest rate hikes, and recent financial market volatility, we are monitoring how the art market will perform in the near-term. The midseason London sales pointed to a resilient if not more cautious market, marked by continued demand but less speculation in the ultra-contemporary sector (which is not a bad thing), and a focus on more established areas of the market like modern masters and surrealism.
While the London auctions lacked major headliners this season save a few masterpieces, New York auctions in May will see large single-owner collections and high-profile estates, which were announced notably early in the auction cycle. These collections, along with strong guarantee activity (see graph below) and continued long primary market waiting lists, point to the continued strength of the U.S. art market, and of New York as the premiere global sales locale. The real test for the market, however, will be if the shallow depth of bidding for middle market works ($100,000-to-$1 million-plus range) will continue.
Table of contents
- Current art market strengths
- Current art market challenges
- Q&A on LA’s dynamic art market
- 10 things to know when lending or donating your art to a museum
- 2023 Art Conservation Project: Preserving historically and culturally significant works of art
- Bank of America’s museum and exhibition sponsorships worldwide
Current art market strengths
Rise of art as a strategic asset class Despite volatility in capital markets, art prices have outpaced 2019 highs and valuations have risen steadily.3 Collector buying behavior has also proved uncorrelated to traditional markets. Between 2019 and 2021, the percentage of ultra-high-net-worth collectors who spent $1 million or more on art increased from 39% to 66%.4 Many collectors are purchasing art not only because they are interested in the aesthetic, intellectual and social aspects of collecting, but also with an eye on art’s performance as an asset class in the face of headwinds like inflation, rising interest rates and the shifting global banking system. Those who are seeking to use their art as loan collateral are taking advantage of stable valuations and lower margin call risk than borrowing against other asset classes.
Biography and provenance dominate Buyers continue to place a premium on narrative in and around the art they collect. Christie’s landmark $1.6 billion Paul Allen sale in November 2022 not only enticed buyers to pay a premium for high-quality art with prestigious ownership history, but it also fueled a growing interest in the “win-win” of selling art to benefit charity while affording sellers with compelling tax benefits. Additionally, we are in a market where the biography of the artist matters. Collectors, galleries and institutions are focusing on acquisitions by Hispanic-Latino, Middle Eastern and Asian artists who convey personal narratives in relation to their work. We also continue to see interest in overlooked female artists, with secondary market prices in this category growing by nearly 32%.5 Selectivity is key, however. Amid oversaturation in the emerging contemporary market, collectors have developed a keener eye, with prices particularly for work of younger artists6 softening by as much as 47% between 2021 and 2022.7
NFTs and offshoots remain influential Artificial-intelligence (AI) generated art and the use of blockchain technology, which emerged from the NFT boom, are here to stay. Spending on art-based NFTs has remained stable among high-net-worth collectors and increased by 4.5% since 2021, following the headlining Beeple sale at Christie’s. A robust 17% of their overall art spend was on digital art, including 10% toward NFTs.8 As we look ahead, blockchain technology will influence artists’ control of creative property, combat a lack of price transparency and help with authenticating works. In a world where the delineation between human and machine creation is increasingly blurred, there will be growing debate on whether AI-generated works are eligible for copyright protection and how living artists protect their original ideas.
Current art market challenges
Economic woes from the U.K. to China The significant drop in the U.K. pound sterling’s value against the U.S. dollar seemed fortuitously timed for overseas buyers traveling to London for auctions and art fairs in the fall of 2022. It correlated with sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips increasing by 22% from 2021 levels.9 But with slow economic growth and continued Brexit complications, most market observers predict the U.K.’s art market to be flat this year. China’s art market faces similar uncertainty. Last year, Chinese-mainland auctions declined by 33%.10 Severe lockdown restrictions undoubtedly played a major role, and despite the zero-COVID policy being a thing of the past, its effects may take a toll for some time. Even if the U.S. sees a soft economic landing, slower sales in markets like the U.K. and China will hamper global art market growth this year and further position New York as the premiere sales site for blue-chip art.
Restitution has become a hotly debated topic As the preponderance of restituted works grows, so does the significance of the topic itself. Most recently, heirs of Holocaust victims successfully reclaimed and resold Wassily Kandinsky’s 1910 masterpiece, Murnau mit Kirche II, at Sotheby’s this past March for an astonishing $44.4 million — a record for the artist. Further, potential legal and reputational risk has put pressure on European institutions to return works wrongly or unethically acquired. This has resulted in several noteworthy restitution cases involving Benin Bronzes, antiquities from the Middle East and paintings by Western European artists. Even lauded institutions are not exempt from the ethical imperative to return works that the public has long taken for granted.
The guarantee market no longer a guaranty Guarantees at auction have historically been an important tool for auction houses to land top consignments. Guarantees allow the houses to coax top property to market by providing downside protection to sellers in exchange for a split of potential upside. In exchange, the auction house will guarantee to sell consigned property at an agreed-upon minimum price. Recent seasons have seen the use of robust guarantees to bring high-profile, single-owner collections and estates to auction. In 2022, 65% of evening sale property had guarantees attached, accounting for $3.65 billion of property (see graph above). Increased supply at the high end of the market has resulted in a smaller pool of bidders and dwindling returns, which hit a seven year low in 2022.11 Given lower anticipated returns on capital, guarantors may become less attracted to this option, which could in turn spur a tightening in supply to the auction market.
Q: The Los Angeles art scene has been around since the 1960s and has seen cyclical prominence. What is driving growth now?
A: Los Angeles is home to a large community of working artists and important museums and galleries that show their work. The growth we have seen in LA during the last five years or so is driven by a growing collector base (notably, there were strong gallery and auction sales during the pandemic), and, in parallel, an expansion in art market infrastructure — more galleries and auctions — and the arrival of a world-class art fair with Frieze Los Angeles.
Q: Has there been an expansion in the collector community in LA?
A: Bank of America clients in Los Angeles have been spending more on art since 2018. As one example, the average monthly household spend on art for Bank of America Private Bank clients based in Greater LA has grown by over 300% since January 2021, compared to a slight decrease on average across the rest of the U.S.12
Q: The pandemic was a challenging time for businesses. Has the gallery scene in LA recovered?
A: Yes! Since the pandemic several galleries with existing locations in Los Angeles have expanded their footprints in the city. For example, Hauser & Wirth just opened a second location. There also has been a slew of new gallery openings — over 10 in the last year alone.13
Q: Does the expansion only apply to galleries, or has auction presence expanded too?
A: We have seen growth in both sectors of the market. For Los Angeles-based auctions, the volume of works sold has grown 350% since 2018, and the total value of works sold has grown over 250% since 2018.14
Q: Frieze Los Angeles just took place in February. How does the fair fit into Los Angeles’ art landscape?
A: Where many other, smaller fairs have failed to take root in the past, Frieze has found success in Los Angeles and has grown each year. The 2023 edition hosted more than 120 galleries from 22 counties.15 In addition to strong sales and a growing gallery roster, this success can be partly attributed to the fact that the fair’s majority owner is the entertainment agency William Morris Endeavor, which has helped drive strong support for the fair.
Q: Do you see this trend continuing?
A: I do. The art market is global and becoming more decentralized, with technology making it more broadly accessible. New York remains the largest and continues to be at the center of the art world, but the art community is looking for experiences and market opportunities outside of New York. Los Angeles provides a sustainable place to expand the art market.
If you’re lending…
You cannot claim a charitable income tax deduction for lending works of art to a museum.
Consider the fragility of the piece you may want to lend to a museum and determine whether it’s fit for transport.
Dictate the method of shipping and handling (private courier, express mail services, hand delivery, etc.).
Use a written loan agreement that is prepared by your lawyer.
Require the museum to cover your art under its property and casualty fine-art insurance policy from the moment that it leaves your possession until it is returned to your possession (aka “wall-to-wall” insurance) and discuss the loan with your personal fine-art insurance specialist before committing to it.
If you’re donating…
Discuss your possible donation with the museum curator first. Museums tend to refuse more donations than they accept.
You can donate to a museum either during your lifetime or at your death.
For lifetime donations worth over $5,000, to claim a charitable income tax deduction you will need to have the art appraised by a qualified appraiser within 60 days of the donation.
To base your charitable income tax deduction on the appraised fair market value (instead of the deduction being based on what you paid for the art), the museum must put your donated piece to a so-called related use. If the museum simply sells the donated art to raise funds, the donation will fail the “related use” test and your charitable income tax deduction will be limited to tax basis.
Museums often require you to make a contemporaneous donation of cash or marketable securities to help the museum with the donated work’s ongoing carrying costs.
2023 Art Conservation Project: Preserving historically and culturally significant works of art
Art and objects of cultural heritage are vulnerable to environmental factors and the impact of time. Conservation of these works allows communities to be inspired by the rich diversity of the human experience. Since 2010, Bank of America has provided grants for 237 projects in 40 countries to conserve historically or culturally significant works of art, including works that have been designated as national treasures.
The Bank of America 2023 Art Conservation Project grant recipients include:
- The National Gallery, London, for Peter Paul Rubens’ The Judgement of Paris
- Arab Image Foundation, Beirut, for a collection of photography
- Constitutional Court Trust, Braamfontein, South Africa, for works by South African women artists
- Museo Nacional de Historia, Castillo de Chapultepec, Mexico City, for several paintings in their collection
- Hong Kong Palace Museum, for pieces in their gold and silver collection
- Hampton University Museum, Hampton, Virginia, for 29 works by Dr. John T. Biggers
At Bank of America, we believe that investments in arts and culture help to build communities and have a positive impact on the lives of our clients and employees. We support a wide range of local and global nonprofit organizations with funding and programming to drive engagement, promote cultural sustainability and make the arts more accessible and inclusive in the communities we serve.
Bank of America's museum and exhibition sponsorships worldwide
Bank of America provides funding for art and cultural exhibitions highlighting a diverse group of artists and art forms. Each year we support 10 to 15 exhibitions at major museums around the world. Here are some of this year’s highlights:
The Bruce Museum
Bank of America is sponsoring the Bruce Museum’s reopening following a multi-year transformation, including sponsoring the two opening exhibitions:
Lois Dodd: Natural Order
April 2, 2023 – May 28, 2023
For nearly eight decades, Lois Dodd (American, b. 1927) has produced a compelling body of work grounded in direct observation of her immediate surroundings. Working from her homes and studios on New York’s Lower East Side; Blairstown, New Jersey, near the Delaware Water Gap; and Midcoast Maine, Dodd continually draws inspiration from everyday life.
Then is Now: Contemporary Black Art in America
April 2, 2023 – July 9, 2023
This exhibition explores how Black artists of our time critically engage with the past and present. Over generations, these artists observe how individual and collective histories inform a present understanding of identity, memory and heritage.
Sam Francis and Japan: Emptiness Overflowing
LACMA — Los Angeles County Museum of Art
April 9 – July 16, 2023
In the work of American artist Sam Francis, Western and Eastern aesthetics engage in a profound intercultural dialogue. With over 60 works from LACMA’s collection and key lenders, this is the first exhibition to explore the artist’s work in relation to “ma” and other aspects of Japanese aesthetics.
Unsettled Things: Art from an African American South
Ackland Art Museum, University of North Carolina
April 21, 2023 – July 2, 2023
Including 44 works by 28 artists — largely drawn from the Ackland’s permanent collection — Unsettled Things explores works by makers from the southern United States, long overlooked and now considered major artists, including Thornton Dial, Lonnie B. Holley, Nellie Mae Rowe and Mose Tolliver, through three themes: Life, Spirit and Matter.
The exhibition will subsequently travel to the International African American Museum, Charleston, South Carolina.
Lavinia Fontana: Trailblazer, Rule Breaker
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
May 6 – August 27, 2023
A ground-breaking artist of her time, late-16th-century Bolognese artist Lavinia Fontana is widely considered to be the first woman to achieve professional success beyond the confines of a court or a convent. Fontana was the first woman to manage her own workshop and the first woman to paint public altarpieces and female nudes.
Ed Ruscha/Now Then
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York
September 10, 2023 – January 13, 2024
Spanning 65 years of Ed Ruscha’s remarkable career and mirroring his own cross-disciplinary approach, the exhibition will feature over 250 works, produced from 1958 to the present, in various mediums — including painting, drawing, prints, film, photography, artist’s books, and installation. Alongside the artist’s most acclaimed works, the exhibition will highlight lesser-known aspects of his practice, offering new perspectives on one of the most influential figures in postwar American art.
1,3,4,7,9,10,11 ArtTactic Global Art Market Outlook 2023
2 2022 Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report.
5 Sotheby’s Mei Moses Index 2021
6 Defined as under 40 according to ArtTactic
12 Report from BofA Data Science
13 Los Angeles Times (latimes.com), “Why New York art galleries are flocking to Los Angeles — and how it's altering the art scene,” July 27, 2022.
14 Artnet Art Market Data