Art Auction Market Plunges Over 10% in 2023

Jonathan Feel
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Last year, art collectors closed their wallets due to high interest rates, economic contraction, and war, leading to a significant contraction in the global auction market. However, Generation Z is pushing new demand, and the growth of the Asian art market is noticeable.

Pablo Picasso's Femme à la montre (1932) was the most expensive lot sold at auction in 2023. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.
Pablo Picasso’s Femme à la montre (1932) was the most expensive lot sold at auction in 2023. Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

According to ARTnews, the world’s two largest auction houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, had combined sales of around USD 14.2 billion in 2023. The figure is down 13% from $16.4 billion in 2022. 

Sotheby’s did not disclose exact sales figures, but its sales are reported to have decreased slightly from $8 billion in 2022. Philips also did not disclose sales, but it is estimated that the sales decline will be large compared to the previous year. However, Philips noted that in 2023, there were many new collectors, with about 50% of first-time buyers participating in its auctions. 

Christie’s sales in 2023 totaled $6.2 billion, down $2.2 billion (25%) from the previous year. However, the 2022 yearly totals included the charity auction of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s collection in November 2022, arguably the event of the century; excluding this auction, 2023’s sales fell a more modest seven percent year-on-year, Christie’s explained. When looking at Christie’s share of sales by region, North America boasted the highest proportion at 41 percent. Next came 31 percent in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, with 28 percent of bidders residing in Asia. Notably, the number of new buyers in China has increased by 30 percent, demonstrating the emergence of new collectors.

This market contraction was analyzed to be due to the fact that ultra-high-priced masterpieces remained in collectors’ storage. The wealthiest art owners evidently expected that the artworks would not be valued satisfactorily in the market and thus did not put their collections up for auction. The total sales of the top ten works of the world’s three auction houses were $660 million in 2023, down from $1.1 billion in 2022, which also demonstrates the contraction of the ultra-high-priced market.

“Due to the difficult macroeconomic environment and shrinking art market, total sales fell compared to the record results of the previous year,” Christie’s CEO Guillaume Cerutti said. “However, personal sales increased and younger generation customers came in, and new Gen Z buyers more than doubled, especially in Asia.”

ArtTactic, an art market analysis company, has similar analysis results. Excluding personal sales of Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips, sales amounted to $11.2 billion in 2023, down 19 percent from 2022.

Yet the Asian art market is rapidly growing. The Korea Culture and Tourism Institute said, “The Chinese art market reached $11.2 billion in 2023, with Northeast Asia leading the Asian art market, including $180 million in the Japanese art market and $70 million in the Korean art market.” Recently, the Southeast Asian art market and the Middle East art market have also grown.

Pablo Picasso’s Femme à la montre (1932) set the record for last year’s highest-priced auction lot. The painting was the second most expensive Picasso painting ever sold, achieving $139.3 million at Sotheby’s New York in November 2023. The record for a Picasso artwork was set with Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) (1955), which sold for $179.4 million at Christie’s New York in 2015. Known as the last portrait painted by Gustav Klimt, Lady with Fan (1918) was the second most expensive painting sold last year. It sold for GBP 85.3 million (USD 108.6 million) at Sotheby’s London in June 2023.

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Jonathan Feel
Jonathan Feel

Jonathan Feel is a reporter and editor for Auction Daily in Korea. He has been active in various fields such as the media, social economy, village community, and fair trade coffee industry and is writing. It is recognized that art is not far from society and the times, and that art can be a tool for the sustainability of the Earth and mankind. He hopes that good works and artists in Korea will meet with readers.

김이준수는 한국 주재 옥션데일리 필진이자 편집자이다. 언론, 사회적경제, 마을공동체, 공정무역 커피업계 등 다양한 분야에서 활동했고 글을 쓰고 있다. 예술이 사회·시대와 동떨어져 있지 않으며, 예술이 지구와 인류의 지속가능성을 위한 도구가 될 수 있음을 인식하고 있다. 한국의 좋은 작품과 아티스트를 많이 소개하고 싶다.

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