It’s safe to say that prospects at the beginning of 2021 seemed bleak. The United Kingdom started the year in a national lockdown and across the globe, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were palpable, especially in declining markets. Yet, as the year progressed many sectors proved their resilience, going on to achieve record-breaking performances. One such sector was the art market. As the year draws to a close, we look at to what extent the art market rebounded in 2021, and what this means for collectors and investors in 2022.
Following 2020’s sustained beating at the hands of the COVID-19 crisis, the contemporary art market has surged, with $2.7 billion in auction sales recorded between June 2020 and June 2021, according to Artprice. The record-breaking figure follows on from the 36% dip in the market in the first half of 2020 and was thanks largely to a shift to online sales and the resulting swell of young collectors eager to invest in art. Art market resilience and growth was especially evident with the $2.3 billion auction sales during the November 2021 auction season in New York. Records were set not only for established and blue-chip artists, but also for younger, up-and-coming artists signalling a well-rounded boost in the art market.
Over 2021, contemporary art has proven itself to be the best-performing segments of the art market. Whilst both Modern art and the Post-War sector are still down by 8% and 4% retrospectively, the contemporary art market boasted a historic performance in the first half of 2021, with sales up 50% versus the first half of 2019, pre-pandemic.
So, what does this mean for collecting and investing in contemporary art in 2022?
The unique resilience of contemporary art has enhanced visibility of the sector, which now accounts for 23% of global fine art auction turnover, in comparison to just 3% twenty years ago. Jean-Michel Basquiat alone accounted for 4.3% of the global art auction market in the first half of 2021, showing that the demand for contemporary art shows no sign of abating.
2021 has also demonstrated the success of young contemporary artists as well as established and blue-chip creatives. With a new younger collector base emerging, many of whom are driven by social media activity, there is a new market for young artists developing. 2021 marked a record year for young artists at auction, with record sales for Young Contemporary Artists reaching an unprecedented $395 million. With young Instagram-famous artists selling for staggering prices at auction, 2021 has shown that the art market is consumer driven.
In addition to this, analysis of the sales contributing to the market boost revealed changing tastes, with works that translate well to the digital arena like photographs and prints being in high demand by collectors. With online sales still making up a large portion of global revenue, prints and photography will remain highly sought-after in 2022, alongside other trends like painting also becoming more popular.
With the overall average price of contemporary art at auction increasing by 130% in 2021, we look towards the coming year with optimism and confidence. Despite the on-going effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as 2022 swiftly approaches, we have hope in both the future and stability of the art market.