2018 was a very busy year for both auction houses and the private sector, with global art market sales reaching $67.4 billion up 6% year-on-year.[1] Auction houses and larger galleries are prospering in this market, leaving smaller and mid-sized galleries behind and increasing the disparity between these large and small organizations. Fewer galleries are opening and more are closing as bigger gallery names consolidate both artists and clients.[2] Museums and dealers alike are focusing their attention on diversity and inclusion, highlighting artists of color and women who are experiencing increased exposure in exhibitions leading to an increase in market demand. 2018 was a record year in terms of sales volume and Postwar and Contemporary art remained the leader, followed by Impressionist and Modern. [3]

The art market is not protected from uncertainty and functions like other big markets. In 2016, all major markets declined due to economic and political uncertainties damaging market confidence, with sales losing 16% of their value in the years 2014 to 2016.[4] By 2017, the environment of the market improved for sales with stronger consumer confidence and increased supply at the top of the market. The market realized a powerful and positive gain of 12% in 2017 with the auction sector outperforming the dealer sector. While the mood of the art market in 2018 was slightly less hopeful due to larger economic and political issues impacting investor and consumer attitudes, it did not stop people from buying. More risk-averse buyers and sellers moved into private sales within the dealer market, which experienced a 7% growth in 2018. The auction market advanced by 3%, and there was additional e-commerce growth. [5]

The majority of growth at auction continued to be focused on the top end of the market, leaving the middle and lower segments to be stagnant or declining, a trend reflected in the dealer market as well. In 2018, sales in the auction segment (including both public and private sales auction houses, both on- and offline) constituted 46% of the market, down 1% year-on-year. The dealer segment (including dealer, gallery, and online-only retail sales) made up the remaining 54% of the market.[6] Sales at public auction of fine and decorative art and antiques (excluding auction house private sales) reached $29.1 billion in 2018, an increase of 3% year-on-year, and up nearly 30% over 2016; dealer sales in 2018 reached an estimated $35.9 billion, up 7% year-on-year.[7] The global art market continues to be dominated by the US, UK and China, with their combined sales accounting for 84% of the global market’s total value.

The art world continues to be globalized, bringing in more success for auction houses and larger galleries alike, impacted greatly by technology. Increased integration between technology and the art world has led to a greater flow of information globally, allowing buyers to access images and information on works instantly. Technology is actively influencing how buyers are making decisions and is even going so far as to impact art-making with AI. This has led to the increased importance of online sales; in 2018, global sales in the online art and antiques market reached an estimated $6 billion, up 11% year-on-year.[8]

In 2018, art fairs continued to be a crucial aspect of global art sales and act as a central part of the livelihoods of many dealers. There were around 300 fairs with an international element in 2018, and art fair sales were estimated to have reached $16.5 billion in 2018, a rise of 6% year-on-year. [9]

Over the past decade, sales have generally reached a much higher level making it increasingly hard to establish and maintain continued high levels of growth, especially when coupled with a supply-limited art market. The volume of sales as measured by the number of transactions increased at a slower rate compared to values, growing only 2% year-on-year. The number of transactions reached its highest level since 2008 at an estimated 39.8 million, led primarily by increased sales by dealers in the online sector with fine art auction declining slightly for the second consecutive year. [10]

Contemporary art continues to dominate with booming sales and growth across the board.[11]

Post-War and Contemporary art was the largest sector of the fine art auction market in 2018, accounting for 50% by value and 47% by volume. Reaching sales of $7.2 billion, Post-War and Contemporary art realized an increase of 16% year-on-year, despite a minimal drop in the number of lots sold by 5%.[12] Currently, the Contemporary market is experiencing a big push for both artists of color and female artists. These underrepresented groups are gaining more attention, and specifically there is a growing interest in abstract expressionist female painters. In 2018 the US remained the global center for Post-War and Contemporary art. Looking East, China maintained its spot in second place. The growing Asian market for Post-War and Contemporary art recently has focused on younger, contemporary artists such as Banksy, Kaws, and Jonas Woods. Furthermore, globally, there has been a revival of interest in established artists from the 1960s and 1970s, with more inclusion of female artists and artists of color. Following another strong year of growth in 2018, the value of Post-War and Contemporary art increased by 63% in the past decade from 2008 to 2018.

After Contemporary sales are Impressionist and Modern sales. Behind the Contemporary sector, in 2018 the Modern art sector was the second largest in the global fine art market with a share of 29% by value and 31% by volume. Following two years of strong growth, in 2018 Modern art sales were $4.3 billion despite a decline of 10% in the volume of transactions. [13] Demand for Picasso paintings from the 1960s is as high as ever, as is interest in key members of the Surrealist group, in particular René Magritte and Joan Miro. Behind Modern art is the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist market, a sector which has had mixed performance over the past decade. The sector had a share by value at 15% in 2018, a slight decrease from 17% in 2017. The Impressionist and Post-Impressionist sector constituted 14% of the share in the number of global fine art lots sold at auction.[14]

The smallest of all the sectors in the global art market is Older Master and European Old Masters. Accounting for 6% share of the value of the fine art auction market in 2018 (down 3% from 2017), Old Masters made up 8% of the number of transactions in the fine art auction market. In 2018, the sales of all Old Masters works fell right below $905 million, a 31% decline in value year-on-year. This decline can be partially attributed to the outlier lot in 2017. The sector’s market has declined over the last 10 years, with values at their lowest point after falling 9% since 2008.


Bickar, Betsy. State of the Art Market: Spring 2019. Report no. Spring 2019. April 17, 2019. Accessed July 23, 2019.

McAndrew, Clare, Dr. The Art Market 2019. Report no. 3. Accessed July 23, 2019.

[1] McAndrew, Clare, Dr. The Art Market 2019. Report no. 3. Accessed July 23, 2019.

[2] Bickar, Betsy. State of the Art Market: Spring 2019. Report no. Spring 2019. April 17, 2019. Accessed July 23, 2019.

[3] Ibid.

[4] McAndrew, The Art Market 2019. Report no. 3.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Bickar, State of the Art Market: Spring 2019. Report no. Spring 2019.

[12] McAndrew, The Art Market 2019. Report no. 3.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.