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More People Are Buying Art Online, as Digital Sales Rise to $11.8 Billion

Paintings and the like have historically been one of the more tangible artforms. But more and more, they’re intermixing with the digital world.

Last year, despite an overall declining market, online art sales increased 7 percent compared with the year prior, Hypebeast reported on Monday. That’s according to the annual Art Market Report from Art Basel and UBS, which provides key insights into the global art market. In total, online sales in 2023 achieved a whopping $11.8 billion, making up 18 percent of the market’s total turnover.

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While that’s an impressive jump from 2022, online sales reached their peak in 2021, when they accounted for $13.3 billion. Similarly, 2020 was a good year for digital sales, with a total of $12.4 billion made online. Still, online sales are doing substantially better than pre-pandemic: 2023’s total is almost double the total in 2019 or any year before that.

In all, the worldwide art market took a bit of a downturn in 2023. After two years of growth, sales dipped 4 percent year-over-year, to some $65 billion. The Art Market Report attributes the decline to a number of factors, including high interest rates, inflation, and political instability. That played out with fewer sales taking place at the very top end of the market.

Even then, some countries did see their share of the global art market grow last year. China is one notable example, with the country jumping up to become the second-largest art market in the world. With its share of 19 percent, China overtook the United Kingdom for that title. (The U.K. now comes in third with 17 percent.) The United States, however, continues its stronghold in the field, making up an impressive 42 percent of the market, even with last year’s 3 percent decrease of sales by value.

With the up-and-down trends, it’s not clear what 2024 will bring for the art market, but those in the field are optimistic. As far as dealers are concerned, 36 percent are expecting an improvement in sales this year. And 38 percent of mid-tier auction houses foresee the same. Just 16 percent of dealers and 4 percent of auction houses are thinking there will be a dip in sales. That’s a good sign for the art world—and for those of us who enjoy following along as major works come under the hammer.

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