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by Elif Carrier

Overpriced, Under-represented, Gate Guarded; The Last Ten Years of the Art Market

In his essay, “The Contemporary Art Market Between Stasis and Flux,” Olav Velthuis explains how interconnected trends of commercialization, globalization, and financialization that have taken place in recent decades have formed new regimes of value in the art market, changing the previously existing market logic. These changes are evidences, pointing out the flux in the art market, and they are pervasive. He also argues that the key elements of the art market have stayed the same since its establishment in the second half of the nineteenth century, and they are reincarnations of the past. Therefore, Velthuis says the art market can also be seen as a market in stasis.[1] Velthuis wrote his essay in 2012, and he predicted that the art market in 2022 would look like it did when he wrote his essay, or it would look like it did a century and a half ago, arguing that even “underneath a changing surface, the art market’s structure is remarkably resilient.”[2]

Ethics of Collecting, Pablo Helguera, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

Since then, the world has gone through a global pandemic and given rise to the social movements of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. Was Velthuis correct about his prediction? Can we trace the impact of these powerful social movements in today’s art market, including the effects of a pandemic? How has the market changed if changed at all? And what has been the position of the artistic sphere in this global art machine?

Let’s start in contemplation of these questions by first looking at the most current art market figures with an aim to eliminate assumptions and present facts. It is estimated that there are close to 310,000 businesses operating in the global art and antiques market, employing over 3 million people.[3] Despite of the strong negative impact of the pandemic that saw sales and employment levels drop significantly, in 2022 the art market recovered and surpassed its pre-pandemic level figures, reaching global sales of $67.8 billion[4]; 55% of the sales came from dealers operating in the primary as well as in the secondary market, and 45% of the global sales were accumulated by auction houses, with sales from Sotheby’s and Christies accounting for 53% of the global auction sales market in 2022.

The majority of the sales took place in the USA with 45%, followed by UK with 18%, and China with 17%, the latter of which fighting for the number two place over the years. In the last decade, sales from these three countries consistently make up 80-85% of global sales. Other important sales markets are France, followed by Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Japan, and South Korea.

Graph 1: Global Sales 2009-2022. Claire McAndrew, The Art Market 2023: An Art Basel and UBS Report (Basel: Art Basel and UBS, 2023), p 20.

Identifying wealth has been an important indicator for evaluating art market performance. According to Forbes, in 2022 there were 2,478 billionaires in the world. The number of billionaires in 2022 dropped by 6%, driven by the lower numbers from Russia due to war and lower numbers from China due to Covid restrictions. Even with this decrease, billionaire wealth has doubled in the last ten years.

Graph 2: Billionaire Number and Wealth. Claire McAndrew, The Art Market 2022: An Art Basel and UBS Report (Basel: Art Basel and UBS, 2022), p 196.


What was very specific to the financial crisis caused by the pandemic, explains Dr. McAndrew, is that the number of billionaires continued to increase during the pandemic whereas number of billionaires dropped by 30% in the 2009 financial crisis.[5] This expansion of wealth of the ultra-rich and their acquisition decisions are also clearly visibly driving the 2022 sales figures. In the fine art auction section, sales from the high-end segment increased from 57% to 60%, while sales from the middle market and low-end segments decreased.

The “buying decisions” of the rich and ultra-rich targeted limited types of art mediums. For example, in the fine art auction section, 91% of the spending of the Ultra High Net Value Individual Spending (UHNVI)/$10M-above was for paintings and 6% for sculptures, and 80% of the High Net Value Individual Spending (HNVI)/$1M-$10M was for paintings and 8% for sculptures, resulting in inequalities for non-traditional art mediums such as film, video art, photography, and installations, which saw a minimal percentage of the market share. Traditional art mediums also led the sales in buyers’ choices in the dealers’ market, although there was an increase in sales of digital art by 4%; however, this increase was driven by NFT market. Overall, paintings, sculptures, and works on paper accounted for 82% of the total sales for fine art dealers.

Continuing with our reflection on the inequalities in acquisition choices, we can next look at how female artist representation has evolved in the last decade. There has been an improvement in the dealers’ section in the number of female artists represented by each gallery, which is now 42% for dealers operating in the primary market and 38% for dealers operating in the primary and secondary markets. Nevertheless, these figures are still continuously lower than the representation of male artists, and the upward trend has halted in the last two years, dropping from 44% in 2019 to 42% in 2022. Female representation in the auction market continues to be significantly lower in comparison to male artists. It is, unfortunately, no surprise to say that no woman artist is yet on the list of the most expensive artists at auction. Female artists’ works do not sell better now than a decade ago, says Dr. McAndrew in the 2020 Art Market Report, with just a 5% share of the sales in 2018 versus 4% in 2008.

Graph 3: Gender Disparity Auctions. Claire McAndrew, The Art Market 2019: An Art Basel and UBS Report (Basel: Art Basel and UBS, 2019), p.167.

She continues by adding that, “The top 100 prices achieved at auction sales in 2018 were all by male artists. The price paid for works by those women leading sales in the auction market—such as Cecily Brown, Yayoi Kusama, and Joan Mitchell—is rarely more than half of that paid for works by top male artists. In most recent years, combined sales of female artists are less than 10% of the value of sales achieved by male artists.”[6]

One improvement for female artists has been the increasing demand in the segment of ultra-contemporary artists, which is a term defined by Artnet News editors for artists who were born after 1975. [7]

In this segment, there has been an increase of 194% for women artists in the last decade, closing 2022 with sales of $220.6M. Still, to place this total value within the big picture of the dominant white male art market, one sole painting by Andy Warhol sold for $195M at auction in 2022.

Graph 4: Ultra Contemporary Women Artists_artsy.net. Casey Lesser, “The Ultra-Contem­porary Women Artists at the Forefront of the Art Market,”  artsy.net, March 8, 2023, accessed June.

According to “The State of the Market for Women Artist’s Work,” research done by Artsy.net,[8] the sum total of the fifty most expensive works by women artists sold in auctions between 2012-2022 was $332.4M, and this sum of money would not allow us to purchase the two most expensive works by male artists sold in 2022: Andy Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964) and Georges Seurat’s Les Poseuses, Ensemble (1988) which sold for a combined $344.3M.

Picasso’s sales figures, according to the Art Newspaper, achieved a total of $6.34 billion in the period of 2012-2022, whereas Yayoi Kusama, who was found to be the woman artist with the highest volume of works at auction over the past ten years, reached a total of $762M in sales for the same period.[9] Picasso was again the highest-selling artist in the modern art sector for the fifth consecutive year in 2022, with sales of $507 million, accounting for six of the top twenty lots, writes Lesser.

Value created around Picasso as an artist is accepted globally instead of being questioned. However, it was not like that in the beginning. Alfred Stieglitz, husband of the leading American artist Georgia O’Keeffe, had the first Picasso exhibition in New York in his gallery 291 in 1911. The artworks were immensely disliked by the public. Stieglitz sold only one of Picasso’s paintings for $20 and bought one for himself for $40. Stieglitz offered the whole collection to the director of the Metropolitan Museum for $2000, but he refused to buy them, saying that such mad pictures would never mean anything.[10] Nevertheless, the valuation of his works skyrocketed over the following decades as he was accepted and branded as the genius artist of all time, assuring collectors that their money was always invested safely.

In the meantime, Picasso’s relationships with women and his remarks, as noted by journalist Jackie Wullschläger, such as “artists who are homosexual cannot be true artists because they like men,” or “woman is essentially a machine for suffering,”[11] or his appropriation of African masks and, through that, African culture in his famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, have not proven to be a barrier to his success.

However, African American artist Faith Ringgold’s painting titled Picasso’s Studio (1991), as seen below, showing a Black model while Picasso is observing her, points out the hidden facts. Ringgold spoke of her work, “It’s the African mask straight from African faces that I look at in Picasso’s studio. He has the power to deny what he doesn’t want to acknowledge. But art is the truth, not the artist.” [12]

Faith Ringgold, Picasso’s Studio, 1991, acrylic on canvas; printed and tie-dyed fabric, Charlotte E.W. Buffington Fund, 1998.148.
© Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York.

According to the Burns Halperin Report, 2018 Edition, purchases and gifts of work of African American artists in the surveyed thirty top US museums between 2008-2018 accounted for 2.4 percent of all acquisitions.[13] However, the 2022 edition of the same report showed that between 2008-2020, this number dropped even further to 2.2 percent. The 2022 edition of the Burns Halperin Report stated that, “Perception of progress of diversity in the art world is largely a myth,”[14] highlighting that acquisitions for work by Black American artists peaked two years after the 2013 founding of the Black Lives Matter movement and that acquisitions of Black American female artists peaked in 2018, in the wake of the #MeToo movement in 2016 and 2017, pointing out overall that, “The best years are already behind us.”[15]

This report focuses on museum acquisitions, which represent a very small percentage of sales in the art market, such as national museums that represents 4% of sales and international museums that represent 3% of sales in the dealers’ market in 2022, and it is not a year-on-year comparison. However, it shows the clear trend of a small increase in representation and acquisitions, as well as showing the halt in the demand following the timelines of the movements. Most importantly, it shows how Black artists and moreover Black female artists have been significantly underrepresented in US museums. For instance, based on the 2022 edition, only 0.5 percent of the museum acquisitions made were of Black female artists despite the fact that Black American women represent 6.6 percent of the population.

When we look at the artists represented by a branded gallery like Hauser & Wirth, we see that eight out of fifty-nine living artists represented today are African Americans, which is close to 14%, and according to the 2022 edition of the Burns Halperin Report, Black Americans represent 13.6 percent of the US population. We still need more data and reporting in art business to identify and question underrepresentation in a wider spectrum with a goal to diminish it.

Behind the numbers represented so far lie the predictions that Velthuis made a decade ago coming true, but also we do see movements of change. Lets have a look some of these predictions. The principal actors of the art market continue to be dealers and auction houses with increased competition between them, also fueled by inventories of certain genres drying up in the late ‘90s and as a result dealers also crossing over into the secondary market as a source of increased income.

Ethics of Collecting, Pablo Helguera, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

The branded dealer continues to manage the long-term career of a mature artist by “placing works with collectors, taking it to art fairs, placing it with dealers in other countries,” as also noted by Thompson in his book, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art. Dealers execute all the marketing, advertising, and public relations activities, as well as managing exhibitions and loans for their artists.[16] Not surprisingly, the majority of the sales for dealers have only came from a few artists, if not from one star artist. In 2018, 63% of the sales for dealers in the primary market came from the top three artists. Nevertheless, due to the desire to diversify as well as with advancements in digital platforms, this number has dropped to 56% in 2022.[17]

New York is still the center of the art market. In 2022, 86% of the top fifty lots were sold in New York, and Art Basel is still the most important art fair. At Art Basel 2022, Hauser & Wirth sold Louise Bourgeois’s steel version of Spider for $40 million during the Swiss fair’s first VIP Day.[18] Sotheby’s and Christie’s continue to dominate the auction market with an increasing total market share.

Previously, the value in the art market used to be determined by art critics and art experts. As Pierre Bourdieu has explained, art critics produced belief in the artist’s work in which the symbolic value was exchanged for economic value.[19] However, now within the changing regimes of the art market, there is a shift from the dealer-critic system to the dealer-collector system, notes Isabelle Graw.[20] Within this new regime, the price paid for an artwork defines an artist’s reputation, not the other way around, giving the branded collector the power to make or break an artist’s career.

Despite this shift, collectors still need to pay attention to art publications, follow public museum agendas, and attend art fairs and internationally curated exhibitions in which dealers work hard to implement their artists to proactively shape the collectors’ choices. In the end, collectors need a lot of assurance because, most of the time, they lack the cultural capital, and the art market with its current configurations makes it very difficult to see how margins are made. There is a lack of trust as well as an asymmetry of information. Therefore, instead of trusting their own instincts and supporting young artists, most collectors buy artworks of already established artists following the choices of other collectors, dealers, or art advisors.

Velthuis stated that the main motive for collectors in buying art is love of art, which reminded me of the Ganz family who bought their first Picasso, Le Rêve, for $7000 in 1932, equaling their rent for the next two years. Their motive, as explained by their daughter with one word, was “love.”[21] Nevertheless, in today’s art world, I would argue that the utopian idea of collecting art due to love can be the main driver for collecting. It is not, although I agree that it does require a passion to engage and immerse oneself in the art market to make the right acquisitions. But this requires a systematic and strategic collection of information as well as a self-education even for a HNW Individual.

Ethics of Collecting, Pablo Helguera, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

François Pinault started his career in the family-owned timber business at the age of 16. By the 1970s, he was buying timber companies that were in bankruptcy. By the 1980s, he was known in the industry as the King of Wood. Then, he crossed over into the retail industry by buying shares in various French companies and then shifted his focus from retail into luxury by buying stakes or full ownership of well-known, high-end brands such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Boucheron, and Balenciaga. In the meantime, he started acquiring artworks in the 1980s as well, and on top of that he bought the auction house Christie’s in 1998. He first bought works of major artists then developed a specific focus on contemporary art.

Currently, he owns over 10,000 artworks presented in his three museums. At the beginning, he was not supported in France to find a space to showcase his collection. Therefore, he took his mission to Venice and bought two buildings and rebuilt them in 2006 and 2009. His most respectable artworks are currently being presented in the Palazzo Grassi and Punta Della Dogana in Venice and also now in his new museum, the Bourse de Commerce, which opened in Paris in 2020. Pinault is no longer remembered as the King of Wood thanks to his acquired cultural capital through his art collection.

The system of patronage existed even before the birth of art market as we know it. Either it was the institution of medieval guilds or the Church before and after the Renaissance, the landlords who were commissioning the artworks. What has changed in today’s art market is, with the increase of the wealth of billionaires, on top of their active involvement in the art market as commissioners of new works, awarding curatorial positions and residencies, funding museum exhibitions, and heading up major institutional boards, these collectors have increasingly started to establish their own museums, institutions and galleries like Pinault’s.

The Broad Art Foundation was established in 1984 by Eli and Edythe Broad and currently exhibits $2.2 billion worth of contemporary art in Los Angeles. Rosa de la Cruz, a Cuban American businesswoman, has established the de la Cruz Collection, which is a 10,000m² museum dedicated to contemporary art in Miami. Grażyna Kulczyk, who is listed in ARTnews’ top 200 collectors list and represents Switzerland as well as Poland, is the founder of Museum Susch in Switzerland. In 2014, Forbes named Sheikha Mayassa Al Thani, who is the chair of Qatar Museums, as the undisputed queen of the art world.

Ursula Hauser, Swiss collector talked about her transition from business world to art world in her book “The Inner Mirror” in which she said that she worked every day for almost twenty years for the family company Fust, which sold household appliances. Then, she met her business partner Iwan Wirth at the end of the 1980s while he was around 16-17 years old and studying for his baccalaureate. She mentions in her book how much she learned from Wirth from the start, saying, “He showed and explained so much to me. He was self-taught, but always extremely well informed.[22] Throughout the years she  interacted directly with artists to build her private collection with artworks from Louise Bourgeois, Carol Rama, Alina Szapocznikow, and Franz West. And in 1992,  as well as she co-founded the gallery Hauser & Wirth.

Where does this leave the artistic sphere that involves not only artists as creatives but also curators, art educators, historians, and institutional and cultural art workers? Gregory Sholette explains that “there is a creative dark matter that makes up the bulk of the artistic activity in our society, and this artistic dark matter reproduces the material and symbolic economy of high art. Just like the physical world is dependent on dark matter and its energy, the art market also depends on its shadow creativity.” [23] While the surplus[24] of this shadow creativity feeds the mainstream with new forms and styles that can be commercialized. Sholette explains that “the dark matter provides the narratives, institutions, and political economy of contemporary art” [25].

The disconnect between artistic sphere and the high end of the art market is quite prominent to me. It is my view that these two structures, although they exist within the same sphere, do not know each other’s worlds well enough. For changes to happen, these two ends need to be communicating with each other more frequently, hence they should know each other’s languages in more depth to do so.

This is completely the opposite in the current art market. When we look at the art advisors and who they are, we see that they are either veterans of auction houses such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s, or they are veterans of branded art galleries or or it can be that they are ex-curators of major art institutions.

Ethics of Collecting, Pablo Helguera, 2022. Courtesy of the artist

Philip Hoffman, former CEO of Christie’s Europe, is the founder of The Fine Art Group that employs 100 people, of which 30 are former Sotheby’s or Christie’s employees. The Fine Art Group advises over 300 families in 28 countries. Patti Wong manages an Asia-focused agency in Hong Kong, has thirty years of experience and collector contacts from Sotheby’s. In 2019, Gagosian launched Gagosian Art Advisory. It is headed up by Laura Paulson, former global chairman of Christie’s. Allan Schwartzman, who was the former curator at New York’s New Museum, and his partners set up Art Agency Partners. Two years later, this Agency was bought by Sotheby’s for $85 million.[26]

The facts and figures presented so far show a configuration of an art market that lacks regulations, transparency, and ethical frameworks. It operates with secrecy and anonymity on the high end and for that the middle and low ends of the market pays the penalty. The lack of trust that exists in the nature of the art market is used as agency by market’s key players to feed the taste-making art machine.

Any tiny movement toward democratization of the art market that we can trace in today’s art market is a driven by production in the artistic sphere. We cannot measure this impact in numbers due to the lack of reporting. Current statistical art market reports are executed with a focus on global wealth. Showcasing categories of underrepresentation within these reports are limited and not the main goal.  Nevertheless, we can still follow the outcome of the work of the artistic sphere through academic institutions, art institutions, cultural platforms, artistic collectives, and off-spaces. The role of these institutions and the governmental, social, and financial support they require therefore continues to be crucial. Because if it was left to the initiative of the art market players consisting of auction houses, galleries and  collectors, then certain mediums of art and the institutions supporting these mediums would have vanished, such as video art or installations which represent a 1% segment of dealer sales in 2022.[27]  Photography, with 3% [28]of the sales, would also have not continued to exist.

As a final remark, I want to underline that the art market, with annual sales of $64-$68 billion, is not a big industry, but it is rightly characterized as having resilience and perseverance.  We can trace these character traits in past financial crises such as in the way the market recovered as it did after the Covid pandemic. I would also add to that by saying that the art market can be characterized by its adaptability. But there is a “but”. For the art market to change rapidly and to adapt itself, in my view, its survival must depend on it. For example, before the pandemic, online sales platforms accounted for only 9% of total sales; however, during the pandemic, online sales reached 25%.[29] It is proof that the market can achieve big changes in short periods of time.

As we are in the early weeks of 2024, 2023 market indications are slowly becoming apparent. Soon, it will be possible to see how the high interest rates, rising inflation, and ongoing wars have been impacting the art market and its key players in this past year. Collectors have been acting with more caution. Will the 2022 sales figure be reached in 2023? Will the representation of women artists increase in 2023? Will the gap of underrepresentation of artists and artworkers based on gender, race, and geography change positively in 2023? We will be able to find answers to some of these questions in the next months.

But now, I would like  to turn the question to you: What do you think is next for the art market, and what will the next ten years look like? I will leave you with that question.

Elif Carrier is a researcher, curator and consultant. Her work focuses on facilitating artistic productions that challenge the historical trajectory and how we act in the contemporary world, in line with her interest in use of art within society responding to current urgencies from decentralized positions. She is a graduate of CAS Curating program from Zurich University of Applied Arts (ZHdK). She holds a BA in Business Administration and Management from Oxford Brookes University, and an MBA from Johnson and Wales University.


[1] Olav Velthuis,  “The Contemporary Art Market Between Stasis and Flux,” in Contemporary Art and Its Commercial Markets: A Report on Current Conditions and Future Scenarios, eds. Maria Lind and Olav Velthuis (Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2012), 17-50.

[2] Ibid., 46.

[3] Claire McAndrew, The Art Market 2019: An Art Basel and UBS Report (Basel: Art Basel and UBS, 2019), 23.

[4] Claire McAndrew, The Art Market 2023: An Art Basel and UBS Report (Basel: Art Basel and UBS, 2023), 20.

[5] Ibid.

[6] McAndrew, The Art Market 2019, 139.

[7] Casey Lesser, “The Ultra-Contemporary Women Artists at the Forefront of the Art Market,” artsy.net, March 8, 2023, accessed June 14, 2023, https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-ultra-contemporary-women-artists-forefront-art-market.

[8] Casey Lesser and Arun Kakar, “The State of the Market for Women Artists’ Work,” artsy.net, March 8, 2023, accessed June 14, 2023, https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-state-market-women-artists-work.

[9] Riah Pryor, Happy International Women’s Day! Female artists still dwarfed by male counterparts at auction—but ‘ultra-contemporary’ sales offer hope,” The Art Newspaper, March 8, 2023, accessed June 14, 2023, https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2023/03/08/women-artists-still-dwarfed-by-male-counterparts-at-auction.

[10] American Masters, season 15, episode 7,  “Alfred Stieglitz The Eloquent Eye”, directed by Perry Miller Adato, aired April 16, 2001, on PBS (WNET GROUP, 2001), 88 min., info shared at 31:20 min.

[11] Jackie Wullschläger, “50 years after Picasso’s death, what has happened to his reputation?,” Financial Times, March 29, 2023, accessed June 14, 2023, https://www.ft.com/content/e8677b16-ea7a-4233-95a6-9b615bb7287e.)

[12] Wullschläger,  “50 years after Picasso’s death.”

[13] Julia Halperin and Charlotte Burns, “The Long Road for African American Artists,” Artnet, https://news.artnet.com/the-long-road-for-african-american-artists/african-american-research-museums-1350362 .

[14] Julia Halperin and Charlotte Burns, “The Burns Halperin Report,” Artnet, December 23, 2022, https://news.artnet.com/art-world/perceptions-of-progress-in-the-art-world-are-largely-a-myth-here-are-the-facts-2227941.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Don Thompson, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art (London: Aurum Press Ltd., 2008), 32

[17] McAndrew, The Art Market 2023.

[18] Maximilíano Durón, “At Art Basel, Hauser & Wirth Reports Sale of Louise Bourgeois ‘Spider’ for $40 M., a Record for the Artist,” ARTnews.com, June 14, 2022.

[19] Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993).

[20] Isabelle Graw, “In the Grip of the Art Market? On the Relative Heteronomy of Art, the Art World, and Art Criticism,” in Contemporary Art and Its Commercial Markets.

[21] Alastair Sooke, writer and host, The World’s Most Expensive Paintings, directed by Russell England (IWC Media, 2011), 60 min.

[22] Laura Bechter and Michaela Unterdörfer, The Inner Mirror: Conversations with Ursula Hauser, Art Collector (Zurich: Hauser & Wirth Publications, 2019), 43-49.

[23] Gregory Sholette, “Dark Matter and the Counter-Public Sphere,” NeME, February 2, 2006, accessed June 14, 2023, https://www.neme.org/texts/dark-matter.

[24] This refers to the Marxian view of surplus value, which represents the undistributed wealth of labor that goes to the capitalist regime but not to the worker who creates the added value. In this context, it is the surplus of the production of work undertaken by those in the artistic sphere who are underpaid and overworked.

[25] Yan Su and Gregory Sholette, “From an Imaginary Interview with Gregory Sholette,” OnCurating 41: Centres ⁄Peripheries – Complex Constellations (June 2019), accessed June 14, 2023, https://www.on-curating.org/issue-41.html.

[26] Victoria Woodcock, “The Who’s Who of Art Advisers,” Financial Times, February 20, 2023, accessed June 14, 2023, https://www.ft.com/content/9e79368c-f8bc-44fa-a6ee-4047ff151263.

[27] Clare McAndrew, The Art Market: An Art Basel and UBS Report (Basel: Art Basel and UBS, 2023)

[28] Ibid

[29] Clare McAndrew, The Art Market: An Art Basel and UBS Report (Basel: Art Basel and UBS, 2022).

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Issue 58

Speculations: Funding and Financing Non-Profit Art

by Ronald Kolb, Dorothee Richter, Shwetal Patel