Art auctions hit record in 2022 despite economic gloom

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The Grohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering in the US.
The Grohmann Museum at Milwaukee School of Engineering in the US.
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More than a million artworks were put up for auction for the first time in 2022 despite a gloomy global economy, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The report by France-based analysts Artprice also confirmed a near-total collapse in the previous year's craze for NFTs - the blockchain tokens that prove ownership of digital artworks - whose sales fell 94 percent to $13.9 million.

But more traditional art, particularly paintings, had a bumper year.

More than a million artworks were put up for auction, and 704,747 sold - both records - with Christie's seeing six works that surpassed $100 million each.

"One might be forgiven for thinking that the world's problems have had no impact on the art auction market," the report said. "Indeed, for certain masterpieces of art history, the year 2022 saw more intense competition than ever before."

Global art auction revenues fell slightly on the previous year - from $17 billion to $16.5 billion.

But this was due to the slowdown in the Chinese market, which was still under strict zero-Covid restrictions and saw its art sales fall by a third to $3.9 billion.

New York almost made up the difference on its own, with sales up by $1.5 billion thanks to sales of several masterpieces by the likes of Cezanne, Van Gogh and Monet from private collections, particularly that of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

One of his paintings alone - a Marilyn Monroe portrait by Andy Warhol - fetched $195 million, the highest-ever for an American work of art.

Picasso remains the most sought-after artist historically; his works generated $494 million last year.

"Twenty years ago, selling a work of art took several month. Today, they are sold in a few days," said Artprice boss Thierry Ehrmann.

While non-fungible tokens lost much of their value - partly due to the crash in cryptocurrencies - the number of auctions for these digital artworks actually increased from 284 to 373.

Buyers have mostly gone for cheaper NFTs under $5,000 and largely ignored those still trying to reach the astronomical levels of 2021, the report said.

Overall, the art market remains dominated by the United States, China and Britain, which together make up 81 percent of global sales.

The United States regained its top position with a record $7.34 billion, accounting for 44 percent of the total.

France was in fourth place with $2.16 billion, with the weak performance of the euro causing a slight contraction.

They were followed by Germany, Italy, Japan, Switzerland and South Korea.

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