This post originally appeared on the Cultural Security Blog.
The past few weeks have been fraught with turmoil as we speculate on what the implications of Brexit will be for the UK and for the EU. Without a doubt Britain’s vote to leave the EU has caused uncertainty. And just as in the political sector and in the financial market, we are speculating on how this decision will play out in the art market.
New York Times reporter Robin Pogrebin’s “Brexit Casts Uncertainty on Art Market” shapes an interesting dialogue around possible repercussions in the art market. Some in the art world remain adamant that art will persevere, as even through the collapse of Lehman Brothers and decades of terrorist targeting, the art market held strong with booming–and record-setting–sales over the last few years. In times of uncertainty consumers tend to favor hard assets; however, with the downturn of the pound’s value some experts are predicting that less art will make its way into the British art market, and others speculate that the weakness of the pound will lure more Asian and American buyers. Additionally, questions are raised regarding how Britain’s auction houses will be affected in the long term by renegotiated trade arrangements with the EU–will duties or taxes need to be factored into buying decisions? Over the next few months we should see what changes will be implemented and what adaptations will need to be made.
It is apparent that Brexit presents an opportunity to analyze how art fits into politics and the cultural narrative. It also provides unique insight into the implication of political turmoil on artwork itself. Art is a fascinating lens into culture: it captures historical moments, reflects opinion and emotion, and actively shapes the present and future cultural landscape. New York Times reporter Rachel Donadio’s article “Britain Is No Home to Me: Five Artists Respond to ‘Brexit’” showcases various artists’ (writers and theatre professionals) responses to the situation and the “soul-searching” of the country’s cultural establishment. Their discussion provokes thoughts around such questions as, Is it too soon for artists to make art about ‘Brexit’?; What kind of art will this historic moment might inspire?; and, Is art a suitable and/or sufficient tool to address this historic moment?
The TEFAF Art Market Report shows that in 2015, 19% of the total value of global auction sales of art and antiques went to Britain, which was the largest share among European countries. The results of the 2016 report will undoubtedly reveal interesting insight into how political turmoil manifests itself in the art and cultural landscape. Thus far British art sales remain “solid,” with the June 30th sale of British art at Christie’s London totaling $133.2M. By watching global sales’ trends we can track the ripple effect; will the art market continue to offer a “safe harbor” during times of financial crises? How will art portray this historical moment, and what role will it play in shaping the future?