The Reality of Art Sales Data –

The Reality of Art Sales Data –

sothebysIt’s very unfortunate that the most transparent sector of the art market is also the source of some of the most inaccurate and unreliable data in relation to the art market. Although art auctions proceedings may appear to involve a high level of randomness and chance they are in fact highly orchestrated and planned events that are designed to maximise the number of people who bid on work, maximise the number of works sold and make the figures seems as positive as possible. Everything from the way the catalogues are prepared and the works described to the way the actual auction is conducted are designed to ensure as many sales as possible.

In previous posts I have gone through all the reasons that the auction results are not as accurate a representation of the value of a work of art as they may appear so I will not go through that again at this stage. Instead, I want to look at the other sector of the market that we don’t get data from which is the gallery sector. Galleries are not obliged to publicise their sale data which means that the art market is missing out on a massive source of extremely useful and relevant information and data. If you compare the sale data for a gallery compared to an auction there is no doubt that the data from the gallery would be far more accurate. Although galleries still are able to have some influence over their sales and sale data the level of influence they have is far less than the auction houses have.

There are different estimates of the percentage of total art sales that are conducted through galleries but this may be due to the variety of market structures that exist in different countries around the world. Estimates range from one quarter to one half but from my research the most accurate figure seems to be that one third of total art sales are conducted through galleries. A report conducted in 2006 by the New York Alliance for the Arts stated that the total art sales in New York State for the 4 auction houses and 626 galleries totaled $4.6 billion in 2005 with $1.9 billion (41%) going to gallery sales. That would make the average turnover of each gallery in New York State just over 3 million dollars which seems like quite a lot of money.

There are plenty of issues to raise with the availability and use of art sales data so I will be posting several posts in this topic over the next few weeks. To be continued……

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.

3 Responses

  1. For more information about the different pricing strategies in auction and gallery markets see

  2. thank you for the information.
    As artist it seems its very hard to swim art world but that muse keeps on luring us~

  3. thank you for the information.
    As artist it seems its very hard to swim art world but that muse keeps on luring us~

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