AFTER 71 years devoted to art dealing in the capital city, the Society of London Art Dealers have voted to extend their membership to firms anywhere in the United Kingdom. The decision, taken at the annual general meeting on July 15, reflects a majority belief within SLAD that the association should be working for fine art dealers throughout the country and not just those with a place of business within 15 miles of Hyde Park Corner.

Chairman Angela Nevill said the society were determined not to lower their standards and would maintain their name with the addition to their logo of the line Representing Fine Art Dealers throughout the United Kingdom.

Established in 1932 to promote and protect the good name of the art trade, there are currently 105 members of SLAD.

Meanwhile the latest survey of members by the association confirms what most in the trade have known for some time – business is getting more difficult.

While the survey as a whole provides few surprises, some interesting nuggets of information have come to light – including increasing reliance on the Internet.

With about 60 per cent of the society’s membership answering the survey – higher than any previous response – the findings probably give the clearest picture yet of the state of the art market in the capital.

Headline statistics show that nearly half of those who replied felt that 2002 had turned out worse than expected and more than half expected 2003 to be even worse.

Strong trends showing up in this set of results include a greater importance put on fairs by most dealers. Only 17 per cent chose not to exhibit at any fairs compared to 27 per cent in the 1999 survey (the last one conducted by SLAD). High frequency participation in fairs has not grown significantly, however, indicating that a reasonable proportion of dealers are “dipping a toe in the water” at just one or two events.

In-house exhibitions are again seen as an important marketing tool, with more than 80 per cent of respondents holding at least one gallery exhibition a year and as many as 17 per cent holding ten or more.
There is growing confidence in the effectiveness of the Internet, with a significant rise in members with their own websites, up from 52 per cent to 86 per cent. Of those, 61 per cent believe the sites have generated business.

One of the more interesting conclusions is that there appears to be no difference in turnover between galleries and those who deal privately at the same level.

While a very much smaller percentage of members are operating at the lower end of turnover (under £500,000), fewer are also operating in the upper levels of £15m-20m and over £20m. There has been a significant rise in the £5m-15m bracket, however (26 per cent as compared to nine per cent in the previous survey).

The hardest hitting statistics in the survey concern profit levels: 34 per cent of respondents noted a drop of more than 20 per cent in profits with only nine per cent recording a similar increase.

The impact of lower revenues is reflected in a greater dependence on part-time gallery staff than before.
And, according to SLAD members, it is not just the general economic decline that is hitting business; import VAT is blamed for having either a slight or serious effect on business by 84 per cent, with the artist’s resale levy, droit de suite, expected to have a further impact on just over half the membership.

The bulk of business is still being done with UK and US clients, who together account for about 80 per cent of transactions. One factor sustaining US levels of business could be the increasing number of dealers opening gallery space in New York and attending US fairs.