(Bloomberg) -- If you've been paying attention to auction coverage recently, the outlook seems grim: The value of artworks on offer has plummeted, volume and totals are down significantly, and various news organizations (including this one) have sounded ominous warnings of an imminent market decline.

But all of this is drawn from a tiny sliver of the art market. Bloomberg's auction coverage, for instance, is largely confined to Christie's, Sotheby's, and Phillips. Not only does that exclude tens of thousands of smaller auction houses around the globe, it also omits the majority of art buyers. Only a few thousand people on the planet can afford to spend a million dollars on a painting, but many millions have paintings in their houses. (It's also worth pointing out that even millionaires often fly under the radar by buying art at galleries and through private sales.) We have no idea, in other words, how strong or weak the market really is.

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