Britain’s Position In Global Art Market Threatened

New figures show sales decreasing in the UK but growing globally; Britain’s status as a centre for the international art market is under threat from New York and other overseas locations. Sales of fine art and antiques in the UK dropped by 3 percent to £8 billion in 2013, juxtaposed with a growth in worldwide sales of 10 percent – according to a report by Arts Economics, a research group.

The global art market has seen exponential growth in the past ten years, with sales centred on postwar and contemporary art, where valuations have increased considerably, where auction records have frequently been broken repeatedly. The post war and contemporary art sector is the largest in the global market, and accounts for 39 per cent of sales by value in the UK alone last year. But Britain’s share of this sector halved in the five years to 2013, from 35 percent to 15 percent.

“Postwar and contemporary art is shifting to New York. If you look at the US, sales have gone way beyond boom era levels. Since 2010 they haven’t grown in the UK at all, they’ve dropped.” Stated Clare McAndrew, director of Arts Economics.

The trend will give fresh support to critics of a Brussels directive that suggest dealers and gallerists that are doing business in Europe should pay a resale charge to artists, or their heirs, where the work remains in copyright. In the UK, the biggest European art market, the Artist’s Resale Right levy was introduced across Europe in 2006 – and in the UK, the biggest European art market, the levy covered living artists only – until 2012 when it was extended to the artists’ heirs for up to 70 years after their death.

ARR was designed to create collective rules across the EU, where France had operated the system of droit de suite, it did so to encourage other jurisdictions to follow a similar structure, and also to benefit artists when their work was resold. But the US and Asian markets have not introduced no similar measures.

The chairman of the British Art Market Federation, Anthony Browne, the federation which represents UK dealers and commissioned this research, said: “The introduction of artists’ resale rights on sales in London – when it does not apply to London’s major global competitors – is now causing a decline in the UK’s international competitive position.”

Mr Browne said ARR was not the sole cause of shifts in regional market share – but rather a contributing factor. But Browne pointed to Britain’s continuing strength in parts of the market that were unaffected by the levy due to works being out of copyright. Sales of Old Masters in the UK have actually risen between 2010 and 2013, while the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist category has remained in a stable condition.

Considering that at auction the buyer’s premium can be as high as 25 per cent – asked if UK companies might reduce their transaction charges; Mr Browne said British business would then be operating at a lower margin than international rivals, which further affected their competitiveness.

The particular levy capped at £9,764 for any sale; the Design and Artists Copyright Society says ARR represents a “modest share of the sale price” for artists and their beneficiaries. DACs, which is campaigning for the right to be levied internationally, has collected £8.4m in ARR in 2013, and passed payments to more than 1,400 artists and their estates.

“[ARR] successfully balances the interests of artists with the interests of the art trade and recognises the ongoing stake an artist has in the economic value of their work,” stated DACs to the Financial Times.

But Mr Browne concluded: “The emotional arguments about impoverished artists bear no relation to the facts. Most artists will get nothing from the resale rights.” highlighting that the right was flawed and favoured artists who were already highly successful or the wealthy estates of dead artists.

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