Industries across the board have taken a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic. The fine art industry, much like the champagne industry, has not been spared. With the economy still unstable, acquiring expensive pieces is not at the top of many collectors’ priorities, and as a result, fine art sales have tumbled.
According to ArtNet, the fine art sold at auctions were less expensive in the first half of 2020 than in years prior. The average price fell 41.3% compared to 2019.
Prices dropped at the same time that supply fell. ArtNet reported that the number of art offered at auction dropped by 30%, and just $2.9 billion worth of fine art sold at auction in the first half of 2020, a 58.3% decrease from the same period in 2019.
“The art market has often shown resilience to events in the wider economic and political environment, but the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has presented the market—and the gallery sector in particular—with some of its biggest challenges yet,” Clare McAndrew, the founder of Arts Economics said in a press release. “Despite finding ways to maintain trading online, the pandemic has had and will continue to have a deep and profound effect on businesses: some galleries have already closed permanently, others have furloughed or laid off significant numbers of employees, and the effect on those that remain open is still unfolding.”
In April, one art expert predicted that the fine art industry would take a significant hit in 2020. In an article in Artsy, Doug Woodham estimated that fine art sales would plummet even more than they did during the 2008 recession.
“The current economic recession is apt to be much more severe than what happened in 2009,” Woodham wrote. He also wrote the closure of galleries and cancellation of in-person auctions and events would impact sales.
A market survey conducted by international art fair Art Basel found that while online sales increased by 10% in 2020, 70% of art buyers still prefer in-person events. Still, people who sell art at outdoor festivals are also having to figure out how to move their pieces online.
Art Basel reported that most art galleries expect sales to continue to decrease through the end of the year, and only 45% of galleries expect to see a sales increase in 2021.
However, a successful digital auction conducted by Sotheby’s indicated that there is some hope for the fine art industry in the second half of 2020. According to Forbes, Sotheby’s sold $363.2 million of art at its June auction, surpassing its goal of $300 million. The auction also set 10 new world auction records for artists.