How Is the Post-Brexit Art Market Developing So Far?

James Ardis
Published on
Photo by Christopher Furlong (Getty Images).
Photo by Christopher Furlong (Getty Images).

The UK finalized its departure from the European Union on January 1st, 2021, with a deal in hand. That took off the table what most considered the worst possibility, a no-deal Brexit. Despite avoiding a no-deal scenario, galleries and auction houses in the UK are still adjusting to a post-Brexit world. Meanwhile, they are also tasked with adapting to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

What are the major issues facing the UK’s post-Brexit art market? Auction Daily takes a closer look at the situation thus far.

Delays and Mishandlings at Airports

Brexit changed the way items can be transported between the UK and the EU. This is the most immediate impact Brexit will have on many UK-based galleries, art fairs, and auction houses. In terms of air travel, some art market businesses report they’ve lost their regulated agent accreditation. That means art pieces they transport by plane will be subject to more strenuous checks by security administrators who often have little experience in art handling or preservation. 

“Some crates are too big to fit into a screening machine. So they open the crates or drill holes to take air samples. Apart from the risk of damage, this is also causing delays,” Victor Khureya, the operational director of art logistics company Gander & White, told The Art Newspaper.

Confusion at the Border

Entering France. Photo by Jeanne Frank (Bloomberg).
Entering France. Photo by Jeanne Frank (Bloomberg).

Meanwhile, on the ground, those looking to transport valuable artworks across borders will be met by increased paperwork. While many planned for such an event, the actual paperwork process is proving more demanding and confusing than previously thought. Artnet lists off the litany of documents and numbers needed to properly ship a work of art, which includes “pro-forma invoices, customs entries, and commodity codes.” 

At best, a mistake in paperwork causes a delay. But in some cases, the artwork will not reach its destination. The international delivery company DPD says that 20% of all packages sent after Brexit did not contain the necessary information and were returned to the sender. As a result of massive returns, DPD temporarily halted its European Road Service. 

How the Art World Planned Ahead

Many in the art world foresaw the difficulties of Brexit and made adjustments to stay one step ahead. The executive director of Paris’ Galerie Templon, for example, told The Art Newspaper that they completed all shipments to the UK before January 1st, 2021. But it is unclear how long Galerie Templon and others like it will wait to better understand the new regulations. This lull may hurt the UK’s post-Brexit art market.

Founding director of 1-54, Touria El Glaoui. Photo by Victoria Birkinshaw.
Founding director of 1-54, Touria El Glaoui. Photo by Victoria Birkinshaw.

Looking to avoid the logistical headaches of Brexit, the London-founded 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair will host its first event of 2021 in Paris. The fair is still dedicated to holding events in London going forward. However, 1-54 used the uncertainty cast by Brexit as an opportunity to test out international venues. Decisions like this could be an aberration, or they could be an early sign of a post-Brexit brain drain.

Long-Term Outlook 

The full impact of Brexit will take years to understand. One of the key questions still up in the air for the post-Brexit art market is how this will affect online bidding and purchasing. UK e-commerce websites may need to comply with the rules of other European countries. In the past, they only had to follow UK laws, no matter where the purchaser lived. In a turn of events, leaving the EU may have opened UK auction houses and galleries with a large web presence to more international oversight. 

“There is no way of knowing whether this will become a huge issue or not,” lawyer and art law specialist Till Vere-Hodge tells Artnet. “This added ‘friction’ could increase over time as regulations potentially diverge. The devil will be in the details.”

The effect of Brexit on the UK’s art market is also compounded by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The UK was the first country to suffer from the virus’s new variant. Its spread intensified just weeks before the UK completed its separation from the EU.  Time will tell what the economic impact of the pandemic will look like, combined with the uncertainty cast by Brexit.

London’s South Bank during the Coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Henry Nicholls (Reuters).
London’s South Bank during the Coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Henry Nicholls (Reuters).

Want to learn more about the state of the auction industry entering 2021? Auction Daily recently looked at preliminary auction house results for 2020.

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