The UK Art World Prepares for Brexit

The UK Art World Prepares for Brexit
Leading lights  -   Gallery owners

As the Brexit deadline looms with no clarity on what to expect after March 29, the art world in the UK is beginning to take action.

Auctioneers, galleries, dealers and artists are all trying to assess the challenges of Brexit, including the tariffs to be paid and saved, as well as the opportunities lost or gained.

An Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana show at Tornabuoni Art in London opened last week and is scheduled to run until March 30, the day after the UK is expected to leave the EU. Most of the artworks exhibited, amounting to tens to millions of euros in value, come from the gallery’s collection in Italy. In the case of a Brexit deal, they could lose their free circulations status and face new tariffs. Ursula Casamonti, founder and director of Tornabuoni Art London, was extra cautious with planning her latest exhibition, and made contingencies to close it early. “You have to take some control,” she says.

The 40 artworks in the show have a value of approximately 70 million euros, which would amount to a 7 million euro tax bill if shipped back to Italy after Britain leaves the European Union’s free trade zone, given Italy’s 10 percent tax levy on artworks imported from outside the bloc.

If the terms of the withdrawal between the UK and the European Union are ratified by British lawmakers, existing trade agreements will remain in place during a transitional period expected to last until the end of 2020, when a new, yet unknown customs framework will be enforced.

In 2017, the UK was the third-largest art trading hub, after the US and China, with total sales amounting to 11.3 billion euros, according to a report published by Art Basel and UBS. This figure represented 62 percent of sales in the European Union, with France coming in second, at 22 percent.

In a recent report, Clare McAndrew pointed out that Brexit held a “golden opportunity” for the art market in Britain. At 5 percent, the British import tax on artworks is the lowest in Europe. If post-Brexit, the country were to reduce or remove this tax, it could potentially attract global sales, “effectively bypassing Europe altogether,” Ms. McAndrew said.

The prospects of this taking place has seriously concerned art dealers in Europe. The French trade federation for the art market recently published an open letter to the French government asking for changes to combat the competitive threat of a deregulated British art trade. “What we fear is a liberalization of the UK market, with relaxation of the financial burdens and constraints,” Mathias Ary Jan, president of the Syndicat National des Antiquaires, one of the 10 association heads who signed the letter, told the New York Times.