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The Art Basel and UBS Global Art Market Report – the first penned by economist Dr Clare McAndrew since leaving TEFAF in 2016 – indicated global art market sales fell 11% from $63.8bn in 2015 to $56.6bn.

The report, released at the Art Basel Hong Kong fair on March 22, suggests that sales across the dealing sector improved.

However, McAndrew said that the headline figure of a 3% rise in dealer sales masked a more complicated picture that found growth was chiefly confined to those with a turnover of £1m or more.

She said many smaller galleries and dealers performed badly during the year. “No one in the trade thought last year was a good year. It was a challenging year with uneven performances across regions and sectors.”

According to the report sales via dealers grew 3% yearon- year to $32.5bn. Dealer sales now account for 57% of the market with auction sales at 43%.

The month of March has become high season for art market reports with both TEFAF and Art Market Monitor of Artron (AMMA) also releasing figures.

McAndrew’s key findings followed trends seen in the TEFAF report, which was produced this year by Maastricht University professor Rachel Pownall (see ATG No 2284).

However, their statistics contrast dramatically. The difference of $11.6bn in the estimated size of the global market – more than the Sotheby’s and Christies’s annual sales combined – has been attributed to the fact the TEFAF report only looked at the higher end of the market and did not include data from more modestly priced objects.

Online sales rise

McAndrew found auction sales in the £5000-200,000 bracket declined the most since 2009 and are under the greatest pressure, while those under £5000 have been less affected.

Online sales were up 4% and McAndrew said this was driven by auctions in the middle and lower end of the market.

Despite the weakness, the number of people employed in the sector grew by 5%. McAndrew added: “Sales were down but employment grew. The art market is a strong economic contributor.”

Also this month AMMA and Artprice published its annual report – The Art Market in 2016 – which focuses on auction data.

It found that turnover at fine art auctions in 2016 was down 23% on the previous year to $12.45bn.