While Brexit was very much a topic of discussion among the speakers and delegates, the conference also covered related topics such as exporting works from countries across Europe and the increasing diversity of buyers at art and antiques auctions.
Here is a brief summary of the highlights discussed in relation to these areas.
Diversity of buyers
The buyers of art and antiques in the so called ‘mid-market’ auction sector has diversified in recent years with a big growth of women and under 44-year-olds, according to The Auction View panel at the Art Business Conference.
Delegates heard that buyers were much more diverse and auctioneers can no longer rely on just the trade.
Adrian Biddell of Chiswick Auctions said: “Everybody’s buying habits have changed. Everyone has more knowledge and more access. People are more eclectic. The buyer is much more varied. There is a lot more texture in the market. There is a lot more diversity: more women, a variety of different buyers. One of the motors behind our growth is that 50% of our buyers are online. It has helped us expand globally.”
Richard Lewis at Auction Technology Group (parent company of Antiques Trade Gazette) said: “Over the past five years we are seeing many more occasional collectors (buying less than five times a year). Previously it would be serious buyers and the trade. Those buyers are still there but the occasional buyer has increased. The number of women buyers has also grown.”
Lewis, speaking about ATG’s platform the-saleroom.com, which hosts 7000 auctions a year for 500 auction houses, added: “We have tripled our buyers and there are more younger people buying. The age bracket of 25-44 year olds has really grown. We have more than doubled the number of bidders that register for sales. This is because we have invested in technology: we completely revamped our site, SEO, email marketing.”
Thomas Galbraith, CEO at auction house Hindman gave his perspective from the US.
Hindman uses a number of aggregator platforms including Invaluable and LiveAuctioneers and said around 80% of its business is online. However Galbraith said it is still crucial to have offices and physical salerooms to succeed. He said: “We have 10 offices across the US and have more salerooms than any other auction house there. If you are going to serve the community then you need to be in the community.”
Austrian auction house Dorotheum does not sell directly online but director Martina Batovic explained: “We stopped being an Austrian auction house offering Austrian art to Austrian buyers. With the internet we are an international business.”
“We have had buyers in their 20s who are starting out to established collectors. We have a huge mix of demographic, geographic and wealth background.”
Biddell concurred that physical locations and the local community are important. He said: “We have created events such as our recent Summer Festival around our auctions. This event was great for the local community and our profile.”
Art exports in Europe: the rules, regulation and pitfalls
Delegates at the 2019 Art Business Conference heard from experts on how to export from countries across Europe.
On top of the new European Union regulation on cultural property exportation, individual countries in Europe have introduced and updated laws for the export and import of cultural property.
Mark Dodgson Secretary General of the BADA spoke from the audience and said discussions with the EU will need to continue to understand how the new EU export of cultural property laws will work practically.
In the meantime there remain significant challenges in the exportation of art and antiques and some of the key points were detailed by James Carleton of Farrer & Co:
The UK export system will change following a consultation launched last year. It follows the case of Jacopo da Pontormo's Young Man in a Red Cap. The painting was bought by a US collector for £30m and issued with a temporary export bar to allow museums to match the cost following an application by the owner to take it overseas.
The National Gallery, aided by a £19m grant, matched the price, but because the owner had originally paid in US dollars, he said that due to a fall in the value of the pound he would only sell for £38m. The deal collapsed.
The proposals set out in the consultation will introduce a formal, legally binding agreement with private sellers, instead of the current ‘gentleman’s agreement’. This would remove the risk of an owner reneging on any sale.
There are 18 export offices in Italy but the Italian export law was amended in 2017 in order to make it more inline with the rest of Europe. The changes included that an export licence is not needed for any artwork created by a deceased artist less than 70 years old (previously it was 50 years). There was also an introduction of a value threshold: artworks valued at less than €13,500 do not need an export licence. While works that are between 50-70 years need an auto-certificate.
Guiseppe Calabi at CBM Partners said: “It was not a revolutionary reform but it did make changes.”
But he said that following an outcry in Italy after a painting that was exported became controversial, the law was not officially changed and its government is still in discussion.
The wider art market was opposed to the introduction of The German Cultural Property Act 2016.
This brought in a wide range of regulations to limit cultural exports.
A national list was created and categories and age thresholds were introduced.
Speaking at the conference, Friederike Gräfin von Brühl at law firm K&L Gates said: “The new act leaves a lot of questions marks for dealers, lawyers and collectors. There are several constitutional complaints that have been filed. This law needs a very thorough revision. The UK legal system is much more well thought through than what we have in Germany.”