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Art market update: Confidence persists despite headwinds

Auction houses, collectors and other art market participants are optimistic about the state of the global art market, financial markets notwithstanding


As the fall art season kicks off, collectors are monitoring how broader economic uncertainty will affect the resilience of the post-pandemic art market. Amid stock market volatility and interest rate hikes, the Art Services group at Bank of America remains cautiously optimistic about auction and art fair sales this season. Robust auction guarantee activity, major single-owner collections coming to auction, and long waiting lists on the primary market all point to art market confidence in the immediate term. This fall, all eyes will be on Christie’s, which will sell The Ann & Gordon Getty Collection as well as The Paul G. Allen Collection. It could be a high-watermark season for the auction house as the Allen collection is expected to be the largest single-owner sale in history, potentially surpassing Christie’s $835 million Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller in 2018 and Sotheby’s $922 million Macklowe Collection in 2021 – 2022.1 The longer-term impact of current economic uncertainty on the art market remains to be seen. Collectors are carefully tracking how the historical inverse relationship between interest rates and art valuations will play out in the next few months (see chart below). Here are other key drivers we expect to impact the art market this fall:


Current art market strengths:


Flush ultra high net-worth (UHNW) collectors Despite major macro shifts since early 2022, UHNW collectors still have dry powder to spend, and many will likely continue to acquire art despite larger economic concerns. We still expect collectors to compete for high quality works, especially as art remains an attractive hedge against inflation and an important component of a broader portfolio diversification strategy.


Strong U.S. dollar With the surge of international travel post lockdown and the dollar strong against the Euro and the British Pound, some collectors see now as an opportune time to make acquisitions at European art fairs and auctions.


A strategic time to unlock value Given positive consignor sentiment and strong anticipated demand, some collectors are generating liquidity by selling their art into expected favorable market conditions. Other collectors are turning to art loans to unlock capital from their collections — perhaps to buy more art, to expand their business, or to further a philanthropic goal — all while keeping their art displayed in their homes.


Potential art market challenges:


Wavering market sentiment Overall luxury expenditures, which include fine art, are down 16% year over year, though still above pre-pandemic levels, according to Bank of America proprietary research. If sellers become spooked by continued capital market volatility or a spike in interest rates, they may delay discretionary selling of art, which could affect overall transaction volume and weigh on valuations.

Drop in art market participation During the height of the pandemic, we saw an unprecedented rise in the number of art market participants. Moving forward, we expect this number to fall due to global economic headwinds and cooling consumer demand. We will likely first see waning activity in certain categories, such as collectibles, emerging contemporary and NFTs.


A softening in emerging contemporary The growth of the emerging contemporary art market over the last two years is on track to continue in the short term. However, collectors should be mindful when bidding on so-called “wet paint” works at auction: While there can be initial excitement, their value may not hold long term. Buyers should look out for frequently flipped material, especially works with a large discrepancy between primary and secondary market prices, as these are even more vulnerable to price volatility.


Notable and compelling exhibition and museum openings


Q&A: Key trends driving today’s art market, with Caroline Orr, Bank of America Art Services Specialist.

Caroline Orr, Bank of America Art Services Specialist


Q: What are the trends you are seeing in the current market?

A: Identity politics continue to be a major driver of the market. Artists such as Titus Kaphar, Salman Toor and Toyin Ojih Odutola are employing figuration to produce narrative-driven work focusing on contemporary socio-political issues. Text-based art as a platform for social critique is also attracting a lot of attention from artists such as Barbara Kruger, Adam Pendleton and Tracey Emin.


Q: You say narrative-driven work is on the rise. How are women artists approaching this theme?

A: Contemporary women artists are subverting traditional figuration. Their work is becoming increasingly stylized — blending abstraction and figuration — and moving towards Surrealist, other-worldly imagery that still points back to the socio-cultural and political realities of today’s world.


Q: Who are the women artists to watch?

A: A few artists to note are Anna Weyant, Emily Mae Smith, Flora Yukhnovich, Shara Hughes, María Berrío, Ewa Juszkiewicz, Lisa Brice, Hilary Pecis and Jennifer Packer.

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Q: Let’s talk Ernie Barnes — with his iconic 1976 painting The Sugar Shack selling at Christie’s this past May for $15.3 million.

A: Yes, we can expect to see more Ernie Barnes paintings coming to market and making their debut at auction this fall. A result like this recalibrates the market for an entire genre and generation of Black artists beyond Barnes alone.


Q: What are the broader consequences of such a result?

A: Collectors are looking back in history to discover older or recently deceased artists who were previously overlooked by the market and institutions — including artists such as Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, Charles White, Faith Ringgold and Hedda Sterne. 

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Q: What museum show are you most looking forward to?

A: The long-awaited Alex Katz retrospective (Alex Katz: Gathering) at the Guggenheim, which opens October 2022.


Q: How do artist retrospectives impact the market?

A: We often see a market uptick with the improved collector sentiment, PR activity and speculation leading up to an artist retrospective. For example, with Katz, all top 10 auction records have been achieved in the past three years as the art world eagerly awaited the opening of his Guggenheim show. 


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1 S&P 500; Bloomberg; BofA Global Research. Data as of March 31, 2022. Data reflects probability of negative equity returns going back to 1929 based on S&P 500 performance., “Summary: The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022,” Updated August 11, 2022.


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