The Art World Responds to Brexit

Brexit was met with resounding disappointment.

“My constituency voted Remain, but nation has spoken,” Ed Vaizey MP, the UK Minister of State at the Department for Culture said in a tweet on June 24 after the results of the historic referendum, in which Britain voted to leave the European Union, were announced. “We need to respect the result and work to ensure a great future for our country.”

In a decision that’s left Europe in a frenzied aftermath, artists, curators, gallery and museum employees, art law experts, and others in the art world find themselves anticipating the Brexit vote’s consequences. In an attempt to gauge the current mood with respect to the cultural sector, we reached out to industry insiders and surveyed the responses on social media. Here’s a sum of the reactions we’ve gathered thus far and we will continue to update this with additional feedback.

“The exit will not take place for another two years,” Sergio Muñoz Sarmiento, an art law specialist and blogger, told artnet News via email. “So it will be interesting to see how the UK art world and global art market adjusts to legislative changes and possible cuts in arts funding. In particular, it will be interesting to see how this exit impacts artistic production and content, as well as how law is used to curtail or further the interests of artists and the growing global art market.”

With respect to the potential impact of the Brexit vote on the upcoming sales, a spokesperson from Christie’s responded over email to artnet News:

We remain confident in the long term outlook for the art market as evidenced by the growing breadth of the countries represented among bidders in our sales.
For now, it is business as usual. It will take some time before it will be clearly established what will change in the future and we will working closely and appropriately with government and other trade bodies in the coming months. Once the political process becomes clearer, we will align our business and operations with any new the legislative framework. We are used to adapting to suit the shifting political, legal and cultural issues wherever we do business. Our experience across the years has shown us that collectors want to collect.

Michael Sherman, communications director of Phillips, offered a similar analysis:

In the short term, it’s business as usual heading into next week’s sales. And it would be premature to make any specific comments on the long-term impact on the UK art market. But it’s important to keep in mind that today’s art market is truly a global affair as buyers and sellers come from every part of the globe.

Artist Ryan Gander told artnet News over email:

I thought the world was moving backwards, but the world isn’t moving backward, it is as it was. We are moving backwards. Yesterday little England got a lot littler. It is a sad reflection on the state of our education system over the last 40 years that the majority of the British public do not have a enough of a grasp of economics, politics and social mobility to be trusted to decide the future of the country. A sad victory for the ignorant mourning the loss of an empire. I am ashamed to be British. The entire country is divided and arguing. Neighbours and work colleagues are quarrelling. Children are arguing with their parents. It was categorically not worth it, aside from it politically pushing Britain back 40 years, it is just bringing out hate in everyone, and there was absolutley nothing wrong with the way things were in Britain yesterday. I am positive that we will see artists and creatives beginning to leave this country if UKIP gain any more power.

Art advisor Todd Levin told artnet News in a phone interview that he didn’t expect the vote to have a noticeable effect, especially at the upper reaches of the art stratosphere. “People who have pounds to buy against the dollar and euros to buy against the dollar are feeling a little less wealthy today,” he said. “But is that going to be enough fundamentally from stopping anybody who has an extraordinarily high net worth from purchasing a piece of art because it’s five or seven percent more? I can’t imagine that it really would.” However, galleries may be a different story, he noted. “I think it’s going to create a lot of problems for the galleries in terms of customs and shipping in and out of the UK for art fairs and for the sorts of issues that UK and EU galleries will have. There’s going to be a lot more headaches from the perspective of banking, record-keeping, and VAT. The borders will not be as porous as they were.”

Angela Choon, senior partner at David Zwirner London told artnet News over email:

This morning’s result is incredibly shocking and something that we need to now use as an opportunity to implement changes that can help all of us in the long term. It is too early to know the effect and full implications of Brexit on the art market. We just have to hope that Britain is able to create a viable separate economy—to remain relevant to Europe as well as to the rest of the world.

Art collector and advisor Stefan Simchowitz told artnet News over email:

In the short term its bad for all markets, uncertainty creates massive volatility especially in the more mature “blue chip” expensive categories.  Art as a store of long term wealth however is a very good hedge against structural changes in the relative value that currencies have against each other as well as the long term loss of value that currencies have as central banks print more money to stimulate and stabilize currencies in troubled times.  So I think once again, after digesting the short term BREXIT shock to all markets, art will effectively continue its structural function as an alternative currency that hedges against inflation and currency depreciation.  On a more practical front, its time to buy British. I will be re-examining many emerging contemporary artists whose pound based pricing has kept me away from collecting.  Opportunity as in all crisis knocks.

Sotheby’s responded with the following comment:

Sotheby’s is a global operation spanning 40 countries and operating in approximately 20 currencies.  We are confident that Sotheby’s will continue to thrive in and adapt to whatever environment Brexit brings.  Looking to the immediate future, we expect little impact on our financial position, given that our business activities in sterling are very well hedged against currency fluctuations.  On the positive side, the new exchange rates have the potential to make next week’s Contemporary art sales in London more attractive to global art buyers.

Investor and art collector Asher Edelman told artnet News over email:

Brexit was a good economic decision for the U.K.  England was saddled with responsibility for the dying Euro sector without the possibility of defending against the Community’s imminent demise.  The sad part is the vote for Britain’s exit was motivated more by racism than the economic reality.  The art market has corrected substantially during the last year and will probably continue its correction.  The shock to the art market and all markets will be more as a result of the collapse of the European Union banking system than Brexit.

The Professional Advisors to the International Art Market (a UK-based professional network of art advisors) polled its members on whether the UK should remain or leave the European Union. According to their results, 79.8 percent of respondents said they believed the UK should stay in the union. Moreover, the poll also revealed that 58.2 percent of respondents thought that Brexit would have a negative impact on the United Kingdom’s art market.

Denizens and authorities of the art world have already stepped into the international conversation. Kenny Schachter, for one, didn’t seem perturbed by the decision. He told artnet News over email, “Uncertainly abounds, but in essence, life rolls along the same, merely temporarily disrupted by a jolt of uncertainty. In more practical art world terms, US bidders can step up next week to a fat 10 percent discount by way of currency shifts.”

Art F City’s Paddy Johnson afforded a terse assessment of her own in a recent Facebook post: “Turmoil ahead. Leave wins. #brexit.”

Jerry Saltz, on the other hand, had more than a few words to spare in a Facebook post of his own:

Britain leaving the EU is a victory for nationalism, anti-immigrant, xenophobia. An enormous shot over America’s bow. Do NOT be complacent about Trump. Nativism and fear, hate and anger are gigantic motivators for Trump voters. You want to sit by and—do this to the US too, you know what to do: Step back and do nothing. So sad. Wake up younger generation; we need you to vote (youth did not have large turnout in Britain) far more rides on your shoulders than you know. Help. Find your agency. ‪#‎FindYourAgency‬


Artists and curators have taken to social media to express their disappointment. Klaus Biesenbach, director of MoMA PS1 and chief curator at large at MoMA, for instance, offered the following declaration: “TRUMP DUMP WORLD BEGINS.”

Berlin-based artist Wolfgang Tillmans, who created a series of graphic designs in a campaign to vote in, shared an info-graphic detailing a breakdown of voting lines:

Galleries across the board have also weighed in.

Only time will tell how the UK’s exit will affect the art world.

Additional reporting by Eileen Kinsella and Henri Neuendorf.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics