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

英國藝術也「脫歐」?市場換主人?

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.

「英鎊幣值大幅跌落,此時正是購買由英鎊計價的骨董的最佳時機……。」624日一封發自倫敦骨董商的電子郵件中,有著如前所述的句子,幾許自嘲的幽默中,也吐露了藝術及古董經營商如何靈活地應對前一日公投「脫歐」的結果。

衛報上,藝術家及藝評人、美術館館長等等藝術產業圈的重要人士,在輿論上以近乎沸騰的情緒在指責政客不負責任地挑撥民族情緒以及「脫歐」將會造成英國藝術產業的嚴重衝擊。

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。

英國總是拒絕歐洲

儘管「脫歐」在英國撩撥起軒然大波,但那風波竟然無法延燒超過二周,英鎊的大跌也在短時間裡止住了跌勢,而重回穩定的漲跌曲線中。「脫歐」作為某種末日預言,似乎也跟所有失效的預言一般,失去了毀滅英國能量。

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。

雖然英國藝術從業人士紛紛指責「脫歐」對產業的衝擊,然則真正檢視整個歐洲的藝術產業,必須說,這種因擔憂補助減少而造成萎縮與蕭條的觀點,始終是社會主義或凱因斯主義的思維。而除了共產黨委員會以外最支持左派理念的就是藝術文化人士。也因此,象徵著藝術文化政策與歐陸的主流發展脫鉤的「脫歐」遭致負評,純屬正常。

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