Shifting Trends in the Post-War and Contemporary Art : Auctions Analysis 2022

Shifting Trends in the Post-War and Contemporary Art : Auctions Analysis 2022
Matthew Wong 王俊傑 | River at Dusk 黃昏的河流 Source - Sotheby's

Introduction: A Glimpse at the Global Fine Art Auction Market

The Art Basel and UBS Art Market Report 2023 presents a comprehensive analysis of the global fine art auction market in 2022, revealing how Post-War and Contemporary art continues to dominate the industry. Despite a slight contraction, this sector held 54% of the market's value and accounted for 58% of the auction volume. The total value of sales fell to $7.8 billion, marking an 8% year-on-year decline from the peak in 2021.

Two Decades of Volatility

Notably, the Post-War and Contemporary sector has a history of volatility over the past two decades, significantly influenced by the high-end supply. The global

financial crisis of 2007-2009 catalyzed a 58% drop, but the sector rallied to reach a historic high of $8.5 billion in 2021. However, 2022 witnessed a return to slightly lower levels, though the market was still 19% higher than a decade prior and almost 300% larger than post-crisis 2009.

Sales by Price Bracket in the Post-War and Contemporary Sector in 2022, Source

The Divide: Post-War vs. Contemporary Art

Breaking down this sector, we see a divide between Post-War art and newer Contemporary art. The former held the majority share at 68% in 2022, while Contemporary art represented 32%, consistent with pre-pandemic proportions. Nonetheless, the Contemporary sector experienced a stronger recovery in 2021, with values doubling year-on-year, compared to a 43% rise in Post-War art.

The Rise of the Ultra-Contemporary and NFTs

This boom in Contemporary art can be attributed to several 'ultra-contemporary' artists such as Matthew Wong, Avery Singer, and Christina Quarles, who set new auction records. The strength of this segment, combined with individual NFT sales, particularly Beeple’s $69 million "Everydays: The First 5000 Days", pushed the Contemporary art share to 40% in 2021.

Regional Dynamics of the Art Market

Regionally, the US, China, and the UK represented the largest markets, together accounting for 84% of the sector's value. The US market showed notable resilience, recovering from a pandemic-induced low to reach $3.8 billion in 2022, marking an increase of 30% over a decade and five times its value in 2009. Sales in China, however, decreased by a third in 2022, while the UK market, after two years of decline, rebounded in both 2021 and 2022. Other parts of Asia and the EU displayed mixed performance, with several smaller markets like Singapore, Belgium, and Austria witnessing double-digit growth.

Price Point Considerations

Looking at price points, the majority of transactions continue to occur at lower levels. In 2022, 92% of works were sold for under $50,000, and 69% for less than $5,000. However, works sold for over $1 million accounted for 59% of the market's value.

A Shift to the New: Young Artists and Recent Works

The Post-War and Contemporary market has also seen a rising trend of relatively new works being sold at auction. A clear example is the explosion of NFTs in 2021. Despite a slight decline in 2022, sales of works created in the last 20 years still represented 30% of the total sales value, indicating a shift towards newer art forms and younger artists.

Conclusion: The Continuing Dominance of Post-War and Contemporary Art

In conclusion, the Post-War and Contemporary sector continues to lead the global fine art auction market despite some fluctuations. The demand for younger artists and newer works is on the rise, indicating a potentially transformative shift in the industry. However, the market's resilience to global events and its ability to recover robustly suggest a promising future for both Post-War and Contemporary art.


Art Basel & UBS (2023), THE ART MARKET 2023 A report by Art Basel & UBS.

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