Two of London’s major summer art fairs have been cancelled this year, with organisers saying Brexit is partly to blame.
The cancellations of Masterpiece and Olympia have raised concerns about the threat Brexit poses to the UK’s status as a major global art market.
Currently, Britain’s market is second only to the United States by volume of sales. But since 2020, increasing amounts of red tape and the introduction of an import VAT rate of 5%, have made it considerably harder to move art between the UK and Europe.
This is having a noticeable effect. Organisers of Masterpiece, one of the fairs cancelled this summer, told Sky News that the number of EU-based galleries applying to participate this year had dropped by 86% compared to 2018.
Gander & White is one of the world’s leading fine art shipping firms. Operations director Victor Khureya said: “Works of art from the EU to the UK now require customs clearances and payment of VAT.
Image: Gander and White operations director Victor Khureya “Works of art from the UK to the EU require payment of VAT in the destination country. There’s increased complex customs procedures that we now have to comply with. The business has definitely been affected.”
According to survey data from the recent Art Basel & UBS Art Market Report 2023, UK dealers were the least optimistic globally, with many citing “concern about the difficult economic conditions that might lie ahead”.
But London still has several advantages as a global centre for the art market: world-class galleries, storied auction houses, prestigious art schools and universities, to name but a few.
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Vicki Wonfor, managing director of leading London auction house Roseberys, said: “We can’t forget over the last three years we’ve also had the global pandemic, and obviously, more recently the war in Ukraine and all of these things have actually had financial impacts on the European market and also the UK art market.
“So it’s important to consider it all as a whole, and we can’t pigeonhole it into being directly related to Brexit. There’s still a hunger and appetite within the London art market. We’re still a global art market capital here in London.”
Image: Vicki Wonfor, managing director of London auction house Roseberys In the aftermath of Brexit and the pandemic, the value of art and antiques imports into the UK collapsed by nearly half.
But last year, the numbers rebounded again by 65%, and although they are still below 2019 levels, it suggests the drop may have been more temporary than initially feared. Sales too, rose modestly last year.
But a striking comparison from the Art Basel & UBS Report provides food for thought. Between 2013 and 2022, the value of the UK art market fell by 7%. Over the same period, the US market, a major competitor, rose by 46%.