Sales in the global art market reached $45bn (€42.5bn) in 2016, up nearly 1.7% compared to 2015, according to the annual art market report for the European Fine Art Fair.
The move towards private sales, however, resulted in a dramatic drop of 18.8% in auction sales, down to $16.9bn in 2016.
The number of items sold at auction was down by 21.5%. In the US there was a 41% drop in value of items sold at auction; it was 13% in Europe; and stable in Asia, which now holds the largest share of the global auction market.
This downturn in commercial activity is offset by the private sales market, which accounts for about 70% of all sales worldwide.
Market research indicates that dealers are optimistic about the future. About three-quarters expect their customer base to grow.
Online sales platforms, including those of auction houses and third party sites, are of growing importance, according to 67% of dealers surveyed around the world.
Dealers also hold that fairs, both local and international, remain the most effective arenas to acquire new and prospective customers.
The report shows Europe remained the most significant continent, with sales exceeding $20.5bn, followed by the Americas ($14.5bn) and Asia (almost $10bn).
The US totalled 29.5% of all sales, followed by the UK at 24% and China at 18%.
This picture is somewhat confused by a change in the way the report is compiled.
It was prepared this year by Professor Rachel Pownall of Maastricht University who took over when the Irish economist Clare McAndrew moved to the Art Basel franchise.
Pownall’s report adopts a focused and specific definition of art dealers and art galleries.
The outcome is that overall industry estimates appear smaller than in previous reports, but are considered to be more representative of the art and antiques market globally.
McAndrew, for example, identified more than 69,000 dealers in the US last year, Pownall identifies just 21,000.
The European Fine Art Fair, the world’s leading art and antiques fair, runs at Maastricht until March 19 against a background where the overall art market is thriving, despite global uncertainty.
A pair of George III-style inlaid and cross-banded demi-lune side tables made €2,000 at the Woodward’s auction in Cork last Saturday of the collection of the late Dorothy (Dodo) Dwyer of Glanmire.
There was much local interest and competitive bidding for lots from the home of a member of the Sunbeam Wolsey factory-owning merchant family. The sale saw online bidding from the US and South Africa.
“It was like the old days,” said auctioneer Tom Woodward.
A pair of card tables made €1,700, a Coalbrookdale garden seat made €1,400, an Edwardian bookcase made €940, a Georgian secretaire bookcase made €900, a Victorian cast iron garden suite made €800, and a George IV cellarette made €750.
A pencil sketch by William Harrington of Sir Henry’s in Cork made €480, a Victorian silver three-piece tea service made €620, an old copper and brass divers helmet made €420, and a red ground Tabriz carpet made €400.