The art market and artists are going through the same difficulties that they went through with the previous financial crisis. We now know that 2020 sales data is estimated at € 308 million, its lowest level since 2014. The report The Spanish art market in 2021, carried out by Clare McAndrew, Marta Pérez Ibáñez, Isabel Niño Alfonso and Beatriz Niño Alfonso for the “la Caixa” Foundation, show that sales in galleries during the year of the pandemic reached 236 million euros, which is a dramatic figure: “Although many gallery owners were able to continue to operate online, the value of their sales declined significantly, dropping 44% year-on-year to a low of € 236 million, more than double the drop recorded by gallery owners globally of 22%. “, conclude the specialists. Global balances also do not favor the analysis of the art market in Spain, which represents less than 1% of the global market and which in 2020 was the fifth largest in Europe.
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The amounts handled by the report are estimates, given the lack of transparency of the market itself, but they have counteracted this fact with a broad survey in which dealers clarify that the businesses that have suffered the most damage were medium-sized businesses – with a annual turnover between half a million and a million euros—, which fell 37% in sales. The lack of sales had a direct effect on cultural employment: almost 30% of dealers indicated for the report that during 2020 they had to lay off workers.
One of the most alarming consequences of the effects of the COVID-19 crisis was the loss of relevance in the sale of work at art fairs. Galleries barely added 14% of their annual income. These appointments in 2020 were adding cancellations around the world and, however, the absence of these events also had a positive reading. Saving operating costs for rent, travel and subsistence has helped businesses. This, the study indicates, “allowed some dealers in Spain to obtain better results than they could have had as sales contracted.” A third of them have indicated that the cost reduction has allowed them to be as profitable in 2020 as in 2019.
More expenses than sales
Are we witnessing the death and birth of a new business model? Dealers’ wishes for 2021 and 2022 are to maintain their customer base, reduce costs and increase profitability. The gallery owners have discovered that, once out of the health crisis, they want to “reduce marketing, art fairs, trips and others “, they assure in the surveys.
How could it be otherwise, online sales of works of art have grown. Although not enough to compensate for the total losses of the fateful year, the study assures that the online strategy has been “fundamental for the survival” of these businesses. In fact, more than a third of the new buyers came through this channel. The gallery owners also believe that this new way of buying art will continue in the short and medium term.
The sector that benefited the most from online sales was auctions, which grew during the pandemic thanks to this tool. “While sales stalled in 2019, values rose 9% in 2020, driven by strong online sales from some auction houses,” the report states. The worst unemployed in the economic catastrophe are the artists. And especially the Spanish artists and artists. However, the study indicates that in 2020, sales in Spain of works by Spanish artists showed a slight increase of 6%, while those abroad fell by 27%. The outlook changed in mid-2021: when asked about the immediate future, gallery owners were “much more optimistic” about sales at fairs for 2022.