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British Art to Follow in the Footsteps of Brexit? New Player to Oversee Market

British Art to Follow in the Footsteps of Brexit?New Player to Oversee Market?


textYiAn Chu

photovarious units

translationJohnny Ko

‘With the sharp fall in the British pound, this is the perfect time to buy sterling-denominated antiquities……

(Parallel Chinese-English textsChinese follows English. 本文章為中英對照,英文在前,中文在後)

‘With the sharp fall in the British pound, this is the perfect time to buy sterling-denominated antiquities……’ wrote a London antique dealer in an e-mail dated June 24. With a touch of self-deprecating humour, the message reveals how art and antiquities merchants are responding to the Brexit with flexibility.

Meanwhile, in the Guardian, the frustration of important individuals from the industry, such as artists, critics, and museum directors, has reached boiling point, with many accusing politicians of irresponsibly provoking nationalist sentiments. They also expressed that the nation’s departure from the EU will have a severe impact on the British arts industry.

On July 27, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, Financial Times, and New York Times all reported Sotheby’s change of majority stakeholder. The Chairman of Taikang Life Insurance Corp., Ltd., Chen Dongsheng, who also happens to be a founder and financer of China Guardian Auctions Co., Ltd., has become the leading auction house’s largest shareholder and expressed interests in nominating directors to its board.

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Chen Dong-sheng,a founder of a China Guardian Auctions Co.,Ltd.,has become the leading auction house’s largest shareholder;the image shoes Sothebys’ auction sale.Image courtesy of Sotheby’s.

These three different pieces of news all seem to highlight a certain change which is taking place in the arts industry on a global scale. It looks as though this previously Western-dominated sector will be entering a new chapter under Chinese financial backing. The Brexit has rendered Great Britain no longer great. In addition to alienating itself from the EU, the country’s arts industry will no longer be protected or supported by the politico-economic union. This also means difficult times lie ahead for the art market. Sotheby’s and Christie’s, both founded over 300 years ago, have dictated the geographic distribution and global expansion of auction companies for almost a century. It is therefore fair to say that when it comes to setting the rules in the contemporary art market, the English are in charge for more than half the time. But is this regime about to come to an end? Is the British arts industry facing its final days? The answers to these questions are as long as the history of Sotheby’s itself, and cannot be summed up in just a few words.

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England creates a free environment which ensures fair competition led to the legendary establishments like White Cube and Saatchi Gallery;the image shows the outer building of Saatchi Gallery.Images courtesy of C.G.P. Grey.

England has Always Rejected Europe

Even though the Brexit caused an uproar in England, the storm did not last more than two weeks. The pound’s downward trend also came to a halt after a brief period, and has since regained stability. The term ‘Brexit’, as a form of doomsday prediction, lost the power to destroy the nation, just like all other failed prophecies.

A closer look at history reveals that a coldness towards Europe is deeply rooted in British tradition. While they cannot completely sever the ties with the continent, the English have always kept themselves as distant as possible from European affairs. In essence, their scepticism and distrust towards their neighbours far outweigh the desire for an intimate or cooperative relationship. Based on this cultural context, the UK played the role of the EU power furthest removed from European affairs after joining the union (even more evidently so when compared with the most enthusiastic countries such as France and Germany). It is this fundamental attitude which prevented the impact of the Brexit from escalating.

Although many British industry insiders allege that the departure from the EU will deal a blow to the sector, a genuine look at the overall European arts industry indicates that the apprehension over a declining market, or even depression, due to a reduction in subsidies is ultimately a socialist or Keynesian way of thought. Apart from the Communist Party Committee, those involved in arts and culture are the biggest supporters of left-wing politics. Consequently, the Brexit symbolises the decoupling of arts and culture policy from mainstream development in Europe, which is why the negative commentary is perfectly justified.



7月27日,華爾街日報(Wall street Journal)、CNN、金融時報(Financial Times)、紐約時報(NewYorkTime)紛紛報導了藝術拍賣產業的龍頭,蘇富比(Sotheby’s)最大股東易主:中國嘉德國際拍賣創辦人暨後台金主「泰康人壽」董事長陳東升成為蘇富比最大單一股東,並即將爭取董事會席次。

這三則不同的訊息,似乎隱隱約約地顯示著全球藝術產業的某種轉變。全球藝術產業,看似即將從過往由西方主宰的面貌,轉向由中國資本支撐並改寫的新劇本。「脫 歐」讓英國不再偉大,不僅自絕於歐洲體系之外,更讓藝術產業不再受到歐盟的保護及支持,並且也讓藝術市場雪上加霜。通過蘇富比和佳士得這兩個跨越了三個世紀,主宰了將近一個世紀的藝術拍賣公司在全球的布局與擴展,必須說現代藝術市場的遊戲規則,超過一半以上是由英國人負責話事。而這個體系即將落幕了嗎?英國藝術產業即將落幕了嗎?關於這個問題,其故事如同蘇富比的歷史一樣悠久,而答案更絕非三言兩語。



其實若仔細回顧歷史,便可發現英國傳統上存在著某種根深蒂固的「遠歐」心態,即使無法完全斷絕與歐陸的關係,他們也總是儘可能的離「歐陸」事務遠一點,本質 上英國人對於歐洲的懷疑與不信任遠勝於親密及合作。正是在這個文化基礎上,英國在加入歐盟以後持續地扮演著和歐盟事務最遠的歐盟強國(相較於熱中此道的法國、德國更是鮮明)。正是這個基本心態,讓「脫歐」後的波瀾難以持續推展。


Excerpt from a.m.post Issue 122  September/October 2016本文為節錄,全文刊載於 a.m.post Issue 122  9/10月 2016