Artist Resale Rights Depressing UK Market, Study Says

Frieze London 2014.
Photo: Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.

The issue of paying resale royalties to artists when their work changes hands has been a contentious art world issue for years and it doesn’t look like it’s about to change anytime soon. According to a report in the Financial Times, a new study, notably  commissioned by the British Art Market Federation (BAMF) which represents UK dealers, found that resale rights are one reason why sales of fine art and antiques in the UK fell 3 percent to $12.8 billion (£8 billion) in 2013, as compared with 10 percent worldwide growth. BAMF commissioned the study from research group Arts Economics, which is headed by Clare McAndrew.

Postwar and contemporary art is the largest sector of any in the booming global art market today. While it accounted for 39 percent of value in the UK market last year, Britain’s share of this category dropped by 50 percent over the five years leading up to 2013, the study found. Meanwhile, sales of Old Masters in the UK have risen slightly between 2010 and 2013 and Impressionist sales have remained level.

The report cites McAndrew who says that postwar and contemporary art consignments are 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.”

The Artist Resale Right (ARR),  also called “droit de suite” was introduced across Europe in 2006. In the UK, it initially applied only to living artists but starting in 2012 was applied to artists’ heirs for up to 70 years after their death.

Anthony Browne, chairman of the British Art Market Federation, said the introduction of resale rights 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.” But he added that the resale rights are a contributing factor rather than the sole cause of the decline. BAMF takes the position that the design of the resale right is inefficient, because it favors artists or the estates of artists  who were already very successful.

US and Asian markets do not apply resale rights, though there has been some litigation and ongoing contentious discussion regarding a California resale rights law that is on the book but  is almost never applied or observed. See the most recent update about a court review of the California Resale Royalties (CRRA) act here.

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