A much-referenced annual study found the market had recovered to prepandemic levels. Some industry observers question the methodology.
LONDON — International art sales “recovered strongly” after a pandemic-blighted year, according to the latest annual Art Basel & UBS Global Art Market Report, published on Tuesday. Sales reached an estimated $65.1 billion, up 29 percent on the previous year, the report says — but that headline figure, combining auction and gallery sales, remains short of the trade’s estimated $68.2 billion peak in 2014.
“The market showed great resilience under continuing uncertainty in 2021,” wrote Clare McAndrew, a Dublin-based cultural economist, in the sixth edition of the report, published Tuesday by the world’s largest art fair franchise and its main corporate partner. She added that the market was “buoyed by robust growth, particularly in the auction sector, where secondary market sales of high-end works of art provided a significant uplift in value.”
The Art Basel & UBS report is regarded as the most authoritative annual study of the global art market, and its findings are routinely cited in the news media. It is the only comprehensive survey of the international art trade that incorporates both values for public auctions and estimates for confidential dealer sales. The figures for dealers are based on self-reported survey responses from galleries, many of whom also exhibit at Art Basel fairs.
According to the 279-page report, aggregate dealer sales rose to an estimated $34.7 billion in 2021, 18 percent up on a crisis-hit 2020, but still below the level of 2019. “The highest rise in values year-on-year was in the segment of dealers with sales of between $5 million and $10 million,” the report says. “The smallest gains were experienced by dealers with turnover of less than $250,000.”
Auction sales also advanced in 2021, according to the report, reaching $26.3 billion, 47 percent up on the previous year and exceeding sales in 2019. Auction houses’ private sales in 2021 contributed a further $4.1 billion, the report says.
Online-only auctions were key to that recovery: So, too, was the major auction houses’ successful use of livestreaming for their marquee sales. Although not new, the hybrid online/live format had “substantially improved in terms of the quality of production and technical efficiency,” according to the report.
China (including Hong Kong) remained the biggest market for public auctions, with 33 percent of the market, slightly ahead of the United States at 32 percent, followed by Britain at 13 percent (down from 18 percent in 2019). France made a notable upward move: Benefiting from the fallout of Brexit, auctions there increased by more than 60 percent to $2.2 billion, raising the country’s global market share to 9 percent.
Given that online and hybrid auction sales were surging throughout 2021, while international art fairs only returned to in-person formats during the second half of the year, some seasoned art world observers were perplexed that Art Basel & UBS reported that dealer sales exceeded auctions.
“I don’t believe the turnover of the dealers was bigger,” said the Belgian collector Alain Servais, a regular buyer of contemporary art at both fairs and auctions. Servais is a longstanding critic of what he regards as the Art Basel & UBS report’s “finger in the wind” methodology for calculating dealer sales. This year it was based on 774 survey responses, mostly from Europe. Galleries with turnover of more than $1 million a year supplied 37 percent of the responses.
“The dealers’ survey is overweighted to the larger galleries,” said Servais in an interview. “They like the output of the report, because it gives a rosy view of the art world,” he added.
In an interview, McAndrew, the report’s author, conceded that, “More would be better, but it does capture an important chunk of the market,” adding, “I’m optimistic in the future that there will be better ways to measure things.”
McAndrew said her report was focused on the “traditional infrastructure” of the art trade, though there was a “huge universe of transacting” outside those structures, with NFT platforms producing “jaw-dropping” figures. Sales of art-related NFTs increased over a hundredfold year-on-year, reaching $2.6 billion. Sales of NFT collectibles grew to $8.6 billion, says the report, using data supplied by NonFungible.com.
NFTs entered the traditional art market’s auction sector in 2021, but at “limited values thus far,” the report says: Christie’s raised $150 million; Sotheby’s sales reached $80 million.
As the report was completed before Feb. 24, it does not address the war in Ukraine and its possible effect on the art market in 2022.
“We’re maybe facing a recession that’s very different from the corona crisis,” said, Marta Gnyp, an art adviser and writer, based in Berlin.
She also pointed out the relatively small sample of dealer data on which the Art Basel & UBS report bases its findings. “It’s all guesses and estimates,” said Gnyp in an interview. “But, since the same limited data have been used over the years, it gives us an idea of the direction. It’s good to have it.”
What Makes Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square (1915) Not Just Art, But Important Art
Who created the first work of abstract art has long been a fraught question indeed. Better, perhaps, to ask who first said of a work of art that a kid could have made it. A strong contender in that division is the Russian artist Véra Pestel, whom history remembers as having reacted to Kazimir Malevich‘s 1915 painting Black Square with the words “Anyone can do this! Even a child can do this!” Yes, writes novelist Tatyana Tolstaya a century later in the New Yorker, “any child could have performed this simple task, although perhaps children lack the patience to fill such a large section with the same color.” And in any case, time having taken its toll, Malevich’s square doesn’t look quite as black as it used to.
Nor was the square ever quite so square as we imagine it. “Its sides aren’t parallel or equal in length, and the shape isn’t quite centered on the canvas,” says the narrator of the animated TED-Ed lesson above. Instead, Malevich placed the form slightly off-kilter, giving it the appearance of movement, and the white surrounding it a living, vibrating quality.”
Fair enough, but is it art? If you’d asked Malevich himself, he might have said it surpassed art. In 1913, he “realized that even the most cutting-edge artists were still just painting objects from everyday life, but he was irresistibly drawn to what he called ‘the desert,’ where nothing is real except feeling.” Hence his invention of the style known as Suprematism, “a departure from the world of objects so extreme, it went beyond abstraction.”
Malevich made bold claims for Suprematism in general and Black Square in particular. “Up until now there were no attempts at painting as such, without any attribute of real life,” he wrote. “Painting was the aesthetic side of a thing, but never was original and an end in itself.” As Tolstaya puts it, he “once and for all drew an uncrossable line that demarcated the chasm between old art and new art, between a man and his shadow, between a rose and a casket, between life and death, between God and the Devil. In his own words, he reduced everything to the ‘zero of form.’” She calls this zero’s emergence in such a stark form “one of the most frightening events in art in all of its history of existence.” If so, here we have an argument for not letting young children see Black Square and enduring the consequent nightmares — even if they could have painted it themselves.
New Spider-Man Art Features Web Slinger in Various Activities
Being Spider-Man is about so much more than webbing up bad guys. Spider-Man is the neighborhood guy. He gives back to the community. He protects the community. There’s swinging, there’s fighting, there’s dangling, and sure, sometimes he has to traverse the multiverse and see all his alternative versions.
In a new print series from artist Oliver Barrett though, we focus on the simple stuff. Spider-Man just being Spider-Man. Seven prints, available individually or as a series, each showing Spider-Man at his ground-level best. The pieces are from a collaboration Barrett did with Restoration Games/Unmatched and are being released via Bottleneck Gallery and Acme Archives on October 3.
Each piece is a hand-numbered, 10 x 10 inch giclée in various edition sizes and they’ll be available individually (for $30 each) or as a set (for $200) on the Bottleneck Gallery site at noon ET October 3. Check out all the images in our slideshow.
Kelsey Grammer Curates an Exquisite Art Collection New ‘Frasier’ Reboot Posters
Dr. Frasier Crane has always been an admirer of the finer things in life, and artwork is no different, which is why it feels fitting that, in preparation for his return to our screens, television’s most renowned psychiatrist poses alongside striking pieces of art in new posters designed to promote the launch of Paramount+’s upcoming reboot series, Frasier. The series follows Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) as he enters the next chapter of his life. Viewers will see him return to Boston which will come with its own set of challenges, relationships, and even dreams. Frasier has finally re-entered the building.
While the first of two newly-released posters show Grammer next to a striking collection of statues, the second poster emphasizes the start of the new chapter in his life. In addition to Grammer, the new series stars Jack Cutmore-Scott as Frasier’s son Freddy; Nicholas Lyndhurst as Frasier’s old college buddy turned university professor Alan; Toks Olagundoye as Olivia, Alan’s colleague and head of the university’s psychology department; Jess Salgueiro as Freddy’s roommate Eve; and Anders Keith as Frasier’s nephew David.
The new iteration of Frasier comes from writers Chris Harris (How I Met Your Mother) and Joe Cristalli (Life in Pieces), who executive produce with Grammer, Tom Russo and Jordan McMahon. The series is produced by CBS Studios, in association with Grammer’s Grammnet NH Productions. The first two episodes of the new series are directed by legendary director and television creator James Burrows, who is best known for his work as co-creator, executive producer, and director of the critically acclaimed series Cheers, as well as the original Frasier series, Will & Grace and Dear John. The series is distributed by Paramount Global Content Distribution outside of the Paramount+ markets.
The Legacy of Frasier Crane
The original series, which aired from 1993 to 2004, had an impressive 11-season run and earned numerous awards and honors. It was a major success at the Primetime Emmy Awards, winning an incredible 37 Emmys throughout its time on the air. This accomplishment set a historic record for the most Emmys ever won by a TV show at that point in time. The awards covered a wide range of categories, including recognition for Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Actor (Grammer), Supporting Actor (David Hyde Pierce in the role of Niles Crane), and Supporting Actress (Bebe Neuwirth as Lilith Sternin), among others.
The upcoming series will premiere in the U.S. and Canada on Thursday, October 12, with two episodes, and on Friday, October 13, in all other international markets where Paramount+ is available. New episodes will then drop weekly on Thursdays, exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S. and Canada, and on Fridays, internationally. In addition, the CBS Television Network will broadcast a special airing of the first two episodes back to back on Tuesday, October 17, beginning at 9:15 p.m. ET/PT. Until then, check out the new posters below:
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