HNW Art Buyers Flex Muscles, Return To Traditional Marketplaces

Tom Burroughes Group Editor November 2, 2023

HNW Art Buyers Flex Muscles, Return To Traditional Marketplaces

The study, based on thousands of responses in 11 markets around the world, examines what HNW buyers are doing, how they acquire art and what advice they seek.

More people bought art in person in the first half of this year than a year ago, suggesting that the willingness to mingle with others in transactions has recovered from the pandemic period, according to an update on the market from Art Basel and UBS.

The study, which looks at the spending habits of high net worth individuals, said collector spending remained “strong” in the first half of 2023, suggesting that 2023 will produce a gain from the levels of 2022. 

Some 86 per cent of HNW collectors purchased from a dealer, and of those, 84 per cent bought in person from their gallery or premises (up from 73 per cent in 2022).

The median expenditure on art and antiques by the surveyed HNW collectors reached $65,000 in 2022, rising 19 per cent on 2021. People’s spending rose in nearly all markets, with some of the largest advances in the UK and Taiwan (both up 30 per cent) and more moderate growth in the US (5 per cent) and Hong Kong (2 per cent), the study said. After a fall of 6 per cent in 2022 to $202,000, collectors from mainland China reported the highest spending in the first half of 2023, at $241,000.

However, a period of rising interest rates, coupled with economic and political uncertainties, have weighed on the market this year, Clare McAndrew, founder, Arts Economics, and author of the report, said.

“Although much discussed, there has been little comprehensive research on how economic and social trends actually impact the decisions and spending plans of collectors. To delve into these questions, this survey – the largest of its kind to date – examined the attitudes, behaviors, and outlook of high net worth collectors from different regions around the world. Collectors continued to strongly engage in sales and events in 2023, alongside some evidence of more risk-averse approaches and less impulse buying. Self-focused motivations including self-identity and the personal pleasure one derives from owning art remained the biggest drivers for buying in 2023,” she said. “And though only a small minority of collectors consider themselves investors, many are highly aware of the financial impact of their collecting activities, actively using leverage and credit as well as reselling works from their collections.”

The state of the fine art market can be a barometer of how confident or cautious HNW individuals are, and a useful measure for wealth managers to follow. The topic also sheds light on the sort of spending items that wealthy clients are passionate about. The business of advising HNW individuals about fine art, along with areas such as fine wine, classic cars, jewelry and other collectibles, has become an important specialist area at several banks, such as Deutsche Bank and Citi Private Bank. There are also specialist advisory firms such as Overstone Art Services (UK), Hottinger Group (UK), and Ronald Varney Fine Art Advisors (US).

The report was based on a survey of more than 2,800 collectors in 11 markets: Brazil, mainland China, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, the UK and the US.

In other findings, the report noted an increase in cross-border trade in 2022 and early 2023. Imports of art and antiques across borders touched a record $30.7 billion in 2022, while exports reached their second highest level at $33.4 billion. While global imports across all industries were down in the first quarter of 2023, the value of inflows of art to key hubs continued to grow, including double-digit increases in Hong Kong (50 per cent), the UK (38 per cent), and the US (15 per cent).

When asked about their collecting behaviors and motivations, 44 per cent of collectors surveyed identified themselves as “researcher,” engaging in significant amounts of research before acquiring works (up from 37 per cent in 2021). There was a slight drop in “impulse buyers” (down 3 per cent).

Women outspent men in the survey: The median level of spending by women at $72,500 outpaced that of men in 2023, continuing to grow in value and reaching a higher level than in 2022. However, there were more male collectors than women among the narrow segment of those spending more than $1 million in each period.

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