A poll card for the E.U. referendum. Photo by Abi Begum, via Flickr.
Short-Term Auction Impact
According to this year’s TEFAF report, Britain was responsible for 19% of the total value of global auction sales in 2015. What long-term threat Brexit holds for that figure—the largest in Europe by double digits—is unknown. But some indication of the short-term impact is currently underway. London’s major auction houses hold their contemporary sales in London this week. And in the leadup to Brexit last week, the houses hosted their Impressionist and Modern sales. While Sotheby’s fared well, selling a total of £103.3 million, the Christie’s sale came up £7 million short of its low estimate. Sell-through rates were below normal at Christie’s as well as at Bonhams. And a number of major lots, including
Long-Term Market Uncertainty
Regardless, even one week of auctions is a data-point, not a trend. The impact of voting to leave the E.U. is simultaneously uncertain and massive, expected to reverberate for years to come. Many in the cultural sector used Monday to take stock of the impact before going on the record. But any damage wrought on the broader economy will no doubt hit the arts. If the economic collapse in Greece is any guide, the middle of the market will fare the worst, with mid-tier buyers unwilling to splurge on what is ultimately a luxury item.
A Different United Kingdom
While market observers run to consult an abacus or ouija board in the aftermath of Brexit, many in the artistic community are simply shocked by the referendum result, which speaks to a broad disconnect between artists and the British population writ-large. While the actual voting breakdown was 52% leave to 48% remain, a poll by of the UK’s Creative Industries Federation members found 96% in favor to stay within the E.U. Major artists almost uniformly joined the Remain camp, in some cases contributing work to the cause. told The Art Newspaper that the prospect of a referendum and a more provincial U.K. filled her “with cold dread.”
Update 06/28—Subsequent to publication, we received this comment from Matthew Slotover, Frieze co-founder:
“In the end, this was a referendum on immigration. The Leave campaign preyed on the usual mixture of fear, ignorance and prejudice to vote for an old Britain that should never return. As a fourth generation immigrant, this makes me sad, angry and ashamed.
It is too early to comment on how this will affect art—we have no idea how the chips will fall, and I would be surprised if UK politicians allowed a situation which damaged British companies’ ability to do business internationally. The art world always confounds expectations and indeed, in the short term a lower pound will lower the cost of British art and art services, and a reduction in house prices would be positive for artists and art workers in London. Frieze was founded as a truly international organisation, working with colleagues all over the world, and at this point we remain more committed to that principle than ever before.”