Art Sales Remain Strong

By Michael Muroff | March 31, 2022

Since the start of the pandemic, the art market has experienced heightened volatility—leaving both collectors and investors in a frenzy. From 2019 to 2020, sales for traditional art fell dramatically across the globe, only to be followed by an unprecedented surge in early 2021. Digital art rendered through non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, has also reached impressive heights, with global sales totaling $17.6 billion since 2020. Such disruption in the art market begs the question: will traditional art remain relevant to future collectors or will the rising popularity of digital art roil the art market for good?

For those readers unfamiliar with the term, NFTs are essentially unique digital tokens found on the blockchain, which is the technology that records transactions in the digital marketplace. Tokens bought and sold on the blockchain cannot be replicated or redistributed without strict permission of the the owner—hence the word “non-fungible.” For artists, the ability to reach younger audiences is what makes it so appealing—an audience that is well acquainted and connected with the digital world. Indeed, the pandemic has only accelerated NFTs’ popularity with artwork like Pak’s “The Merge” marking the most expensive one sold yet, selling for nearly $92 million USD.

Despite these recent developments, sales for traditional art continue to have a strong outlook. Recently, Rembrandt’s 1636 De Vaandeldrager and Picasso’s 1932 Femme assise près d'une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) made headlines for reaching record-breaking sales of $198 million and $93 million USD, respectively, to both public and private collectors. More surprisingly still is that since 2020, millennial art collectors have spent three times more on traditional art than their boomer counterparts, according to the Bank of America’s Fall 2021 Art Market Update.

This challenges the long-held assumption that art is popular only among the very oldest and wealthiest of our society—and that the popularity of such art will inevitably die out with that generation. It appears, though, that millenials, indeed a far younger and more diverse demographic, account for a sizeable portion of those purchasing art. As millennials move further into their careers and have the potential to earn higher incomes, we can only expect to see the share of artwork owned by millennial collectors to grow in the coming decades.

While NFTs have undoubtedly disrupted the global art market in recent years, the strong demand for traditional artwork among millennials is hard to overlook. Though it is certainly possible for NFTs to dominate the art market, there is scant evidence to suggest that NFTs will displace demand for traditional art entirely. It appears, then, that the great works of the Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo periods, among others, are here to stay.

Edited by Joseph Barbieri