The Art Business Conference

The Art Business Conference at Church House, Westminster. Image: Art Business Conference/ David Owen.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

Delegates in Westminster on September 12 heard the results from a new survey on confidence in the art world. Undertaken by the Society of London Art Dealers (SLAD), it found more than half (53) of respondents said they are positive about the art market in the UK in the next 12 months.

Paul Hewitt, director general of SLAD, said: “We want to head off despondency and get a positive vision for the country. We want to show how the UK art market can capitalise on its excellent art market eco system.”

Paul Hewitt

Paul Hewitt, director general of Society of London Art Dealers (SLAD). Image: Art Business Conference/ David Owen.

During the first session at the event panelists said it was government that should step in to boost the art market.

Melanie Clore, Clore Wyndham Fine Art, said: “The art world needs more support from government in the UK. We are a very important industry. UK art sales were £9bn in 2022, this is much more than with football in the UK for example. It is time we were taken more seriously as a business.

“We fall between the cracks between DCMS and the department of business. I don’t feel we have the ear of government.

“For instance, the exhibitors of Freize all have to complete a Temporary Admission form to import their exhibits. What would help if there could be one TA scheme that covered the whole fair. Things like that would really boost the market.”

Art collector Lady Alison Deighton, speaking about the UK government’s recent focus, added: “Maths, chess and AI are great but art is great too. These are not mutually exclusive.”

“We need to put culture at the top of what the UK is about.”

She also argued the case that the government should recognise the need to give benefits to donors and philanthropists who support the art sector, just as they receive in the US. 

Art Business Conference panel

Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, art collector Lady Alison Deighton, Melanie Clore, Clore Wyndham Fine Art, Francois Chantala, at Thomas Dane Gallery. Image: Art Business Conference/ David Owen.

The panel also highlighted the benefits of the UK market. SLAD’s Hewett reiterated the strong ecosystem that the UK has which makes it a world leader.

For instance, the heavy regulation, such as anti-money laundering legislation (even though it has been a burden for many firms), could be something to celebrate.

Francois Chantala, at Thomas Dane Gallery, said that even with the difficulties of dealing with increased regulations, the UK art market is actually functioning well and its ethics, trust and structure reassures participants and those coming into this market.

In terms of London and the UK competing with New York or Paris, Chantala does not think Paris and London should compete - in fact they should complement each other. He added: “They are only 2.5 hours away from each other. They both offer something so beautifully different.”

Nicholas Cullinan, director of the National Portrait Gallery, agreed and said that a positive of London is how close London is to other major European cities. This is a benefit that a city in the US does not have.

He added: “We need to move on from this idea of this competition or being number one.”

Other topics discussed on the day were sustainability, due diligence standards, AI and the case for an art registry.

The conference also featured the first speech by Bristol MP Thangam Debbonaire in her new role as shadow secretary of state for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) who pledged her support for the art world.