It’s official: The bull market for art is taking a breather.
Global art sales fell 7 percent last year to $63.8 billion, led by a slowdown in Asia and weaker demand for postwar and contemporary art, the European Fine Art Foundation said in its annual art market report on Wednesday. It’s the first decline since 2012, when purchases fell 12 percent.
The market for art is cooling as financial markets show signs of weakening after a seven-year bull run that pushed prices for many risk assets to records. Even as sales fell, the top of the market was still going strong last year, with hedge fund manager Ken Griffin paying $500 million for two Abstract Expressionist paintings in a private transaction. Pablo Picasso’s painting “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O)" fetched $179.4 million, the highest auction price for any artwork, at Christie’s in May.
“While the change to a negative trend in 2015 could indicate a cooling in the global market, particularly in certain sectors, some slowdown was inevitable,” according to the report. “As sales reached a much higher level during the last ten years, it has become harder to maintain continued growth, particularly in a supply-limited art market.”
The value of the art market increased by 78 percent from 2005 to 2015, the report said. It’s up 61 percent since the recent low during the financial crisis in 2009.
The U.S. remained the largest art market, representing 43 percent of global transactions, and the strongest, with sales increasing 4 percent to a record $27.3 billion in 2015. The Chinese market declined by 23 percent to $11.8 billion, the lowest level since 2009, according to the report.
Postwar and contemporary art, the biggest segment of the market by value, slowed down after two years of double-digit growth. Auction sales in this category fell 14 percent to $6.8 billion and the number of transactions declined by 20 percent.
Sales of modern art at auction shrank 1 percent in value to $4.5 billion, while the number of transactions fell 20 percent, the report said.
As in previous years, the top of the market accounted for most of the transaction values. Works sold for more than $1 million represented just 1 percent of all transactions while accounting for 57 percent of the value of sales in the fine art market in 2015. Works sold for more than $10 million accounted for 0.1 percent of transactions but made up 28 percent of total sale values.