ART TRENDS 2022: Brexit and Art – will lingering uncertainty continue to stifle the art market?


Earlier this month, The Spectator, a conservative British magazine established in 1828, sold an NFT of what its editor, Fraser Nelson, said was “perhaps the best known” of all its covers. Produced for the June 18, 2016 edition of the magazine by political cartoonist Morten Morland, the image shows a butterfly emblazoned with the Union Jack triumphantly emerging from a collapsing box studded with European stars. The text reads, “Out – and in the World”.

As Nelson wrote, the cover acted as the magazine’s announcement that he was backing Brexit, just days before the British public voted in the referendum that would see the country go down that route. The image was somewhat of a hit with pro-Brexit Brits, but was also relatively rare as a remarkable, professionally produced work of art that fell on this side of the argument.

While the cover of The Spectator managed to get its message across to an appreciative audience, contemporary art produced in response to Brexit has tended to take a rest line. Not surprisingly, supporters of Brexit might say, given that the internationalist and leftist art world aligns well with the types of liberal elites they hoped to dethrone. For anti-Brexit Remainers, however, an alternate view of the Morland butterfly could have been an ascending dusty butterfly, with a piece the size of Northern Ireland missing on one of its wings.

As we all know, it’s been a long journey since the butterfly came out of its box. The protracted UK-EU exit negotiations led to the entry into force of post-Brexit regulations as the continent faced the COVID-19 crisis. As UK consumers have grown accustomed to emptying supermarket shelves, petrol queues and shipping delays, it’s not always easy to separate Brexit-induced self-harm from the effects of the pandemic. Like other industries, the art world has faced a situation where Brexit and Covid-19 came together to strike hard with a combination of blows. The most powerful strikes have come from the pandemic, but complications directly attributable to Brexit are also becoming apparent.

For UK and European galleries, the biggest issue with Brexit now is the increased costs, red tape and effort required to move works of art between the two regulatory regimes. European galleries attending London’s Frieze art fair in October this year, for example, noted the increasing difficulty in bringing their artists’ work to what is the biggest annual event on the UK art scene.

Brexit is also starting to impact arts education, with European students coming to the UK now having to pay the hefty tuition fees applicable to international students from the rest of the world. As a result, British art students have lost the easy access they once had to classes across the continent, some of which previously offered them free classes.

It remains to be seen whether such factors have a negative or realignment effect on the commercial art world in the long run. When asked whether Brexit had negatively affected the art market from a British perspective, a spokesperson for the auction house Christie’s was particularly optimistic, saying: “Our sales in London are international; in this year’s Art Basel / UBS report (2021) on the global art market, it was stated that 87% of the UK market’s value was made up of non-EU trade. We therefore remain convinced that London will remain at the center of the world art market.

The spokesperson added that this year’s Frieze had attracted a lot of people, with “a real ‘buzz'”, and that “many had traveled from all over Europe and the United States to attend”. They also noted that sales in 2021 were strong, with auction activity at the recent London auctions “roughly evenly distributed” between Europe, Asia and the Americas.

The global nature of operations like Christie’s which sit at the top of the art market means that they are well suited to deal with different regulatory regimes. Major UK and European galleries are also perfectly at home attending art fairs in the US and Hong Kong, and selling works to collectors in China and the Middle East. London’s central position within this system bodes well for the kind of “open and global Britain” that Nelson, the editor of The Spectator, is embodied in the image of Morland’s butterfly. Despite this, the Christie’s spokesperson acknowledges that there have been “changes to adapt to because of Brexit”.

“For example, those who have bought and sold through our auction houses in Paris or London, but are based in the opposite city, will notice that the mechanisms and processes for shipping and taxes have changed. As a global company, we know the procedures we use. Problems can arise with external vendors (ie shipping) as the volume increases, but we anticipated this with our regular vendors and the Christie’s team. For others in our industry, however, it has been more difficult.

Offering his perspective across the sea from the UK, Fons Hof, longtime director of the Art Rotterdam art fair, says the combination of Brexit and COVID-19 has had an impact certain: “Yes, there is definitely a big difference. Corona’s measures for non-European galleries made it difficult to participate in the last postponed edition of Art Rotterdam in July. In addition, the transport of works has become much more complicated for English galleries. The smaller galleries in particular did not oversee all of this and decided not to participate. Nonetheless, I would expect these English galleries to also get used to the temporary importation of works of art when they do a fair in the EU. And with that, I think the participation of English galleries will normalize again in the future.

While the 23rd edition of Art Rotterdam will take place from February 10 to 13, 2022, Hof believes “the worst is behind us regarding COVID-19 and Brexit. Although tough measures are expected again and some art fairs may have to be moved again, organizations have a lot more experience dealing with the pandemic and everyone has become a lot more flexible. In addition, I think that museum visits and visiting an art fair are easy to regulate and adapt to the conditions of a safe visit.

The full impact of Brexit on the European art world is unlikely to be known until the dust settles on the new regulations that came into effect in 2021 and organizations have had time to assess how they are restrictions on residence and work rights, as well as the movement of both people and works of art between the EU and the UK, affect their functioning. We will also not know the impact of new arrangements yet to be agreed, more tussle between the politicians involved and the possible retraction of things currently in force.

Like the rest of us, the art world will have to play a game of waiting. The consequences of Brexit at the macro level may not be too great. On an individual level, however, there will be many people in the art who will share the burden of no longer having the same level of freedom to live, work, study and travel as easily as they once did between the UK and its neighbors. Europeans.


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