The figures collected by the European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) in its annual Art Market Report for the year 2015 demonstrate a decline in both the volume and value of sales. Sales decreased to US$63.8 billion (£45 billion) compared to US$68.2 billion (£48 billion) in 2014 while transactions fell by 2%.
According to the report, the downturn can be explained by weaker demand for art in Asia. Sales in China fell by 23% to their lowest level since 2009. In contrast, the strongest and largest market remains the United States with a 43% share of global sales and an increase of 4% in sales between 2005-2015.
The report also suggests the decline comes as little or no surprise given the extent to which the market has rapidly overheated in the past few years making continued growth more difficult.
“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,” the report states.
The decline in the market has been obscured by a handful of lucrative sales such as the record-breaking $170 million (£113 million) paid for Modigliani’s ‘Nu Couché’ (1917-18) at Christie’s New York in November 2015.
Nevertheless, some experts insist it’s not all doom and gloom. Sotheby’s senior specialist on contemporary art, Oliver Barker, told The Guardian that he is sceptical about the interpretation of the report’s findings:
“I think the headline story is slightly misleading – this is not a time of all bad news in the market. Some art-market watchers are talking themselves into a frenzy over a situation which may not exist,” he said.
Commenting on the shrinking Asian market, Barker also pointed to the fact that of the six bidders who fought over Lucian Freud’s ‘Pregnant Girl’, which sold at auction at Sotheby’s London for £16.1 million on 10 February this year three bidders were Chinese.
The findings in the TEFAF report are due to be presented today (Friday 11 March) at the fifth TEFAF Art Symposium in Maastricht, the Netherlands.