Works Worth $20M or More Made Up Nearly Half of Art Sold at Auction Between 2018 and 2022

As the art fair calendar continues in full swing and a Johannes Vermeer retrospective at the Rijksmuseum sold out, a new report from Sotheby’s further confirms a robust recovery in the high-end art market.

The new report, published Tuesday, says the biggest area of growth for pieces sold at auction is the $20 million and up range, which accounted for 45.2% of all sales of $1 million or more in 2022.

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For the report, art market analytics firm ArtTactic analyzed auction sales data from Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips between 2018 and 2022 in the categories of Impressionist, Modern, Old Masters, and contemporary art. Additionally, it includes information from Sotheby’s private sales department.

ArtTactic produced the “insight report” for the auction house and similar surveys in the series are set to be released in the future.

The $1 million benchmark is significant because while the financial figure for art works represents just 4% of lots sold, the report notes that this tier “accounts for 74% of total sales by value in the collecting categories covered in this report.” While private sales of art at $1 million or greater fell to $1.05 billion in 2022, down from the peak of $1.41 billion in 2020, the report noted that is still 30.8% higher than that tier of sales in 2019 at $803.5 million.

Two specific trends cited in the report are the rise of Asian collectors just before the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing number of bidders from Generation X and the Millennial generation.

Asian collectors now make up nearly a third (32%) of those who placed bids for art over $1 million at Sotheby’s in the years analyzed, according the auction house. While this group’s buying is most prevalent in the sales category of Chinese Traditional Paintings and Works of Art, there was also an increase of Asian collectors bidding on Contemporary (18%), as well as for Impressionist and Modern works (17%) between 2018 and 2022.

“Almost as many bidders came from Asia as North America, where the largest number are based (34%), and they outnumbered Europeans, who accounted for 29% of bidders,” the report said.

Baby Boomers are still the largest age demographic of bidders in the $1 million+ market at 40.6% in 2022, but that fell from 48% in 2020. The share of Millennial bidders grew from 7% in 2018 to 16% in 2022.


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