As the global art world descends on London’s Frieze fair this week, the current low value of the UK pound makes buying art in Britain particularly attractive for overseas collectors and dealers.
The prestigious fair opened Wednesday at full power after a difficult couple of years, experts on the sector said.
The bustling showcase goes ahead after the 2020 event was cancelled due to the pandemic and last year’s fair was hit by related travel restrictions that barred many buyers.
“This year I feel it’s 100 percent geared up”, said Daniela Duppen, an art dealer and adviser who has worked in London since 2008.
Thousands of visitors poured into the fair, which runs till Sunday with 160 galleries running stalls in tents in Regent’s Park, central London.
For aficionados, Frieze offers a chance to buy a painting, a sculpture or other work of art that has been previously shown in some of the world’s top galleries.
It also draws international buyers.
“At the moment if you’re coming from America it’s very affordable to buy here because of the pound weakness,” added Duppen.
While Britons are clobbered with a severe cost of living crisis and near double-digit inflation, the new government last month caused panic in markets by announcing massive tax cuts without a clear way to fund them.
As a result, the pound sterling hit a historic low and has struggled to recover, while the US dollar has benefited from being seen as a safe haven during the war in Ukraine.
– ‘Good timing’ –
“Of course this year it’s more affordable for us to buy in London”, said Robert, an American collector walking the fair’s aisles Wednesday.
“I think many Americans are thinking ‘let’s buy now’ when they may not have done the same in another context. It’s good timing for business,” said the former banker from Chicago, who asked not to use his full name.
“I’ve actually seen a lot of galleries switch the artwork prices to USD,” said Olivia Davis, an art consultant based in Los Angeles who had travelled for the London fair.
“Perhaps they can raise prices in US dollar terms and still have the same demand from American buyers,” she added.
After two years of pandemic, the galleries are feeling the pinch and counting on a big event like Frieze to bounce back.
“For galleries it’s the week of the year. They have no option but to sell,” said Louisa, an art student who works part-time at a small London gallery.
She said galleries have to pay enormous sums for a stand, and there is “a lot of pressure to make it profitable.”
Davis predicted that at art sales this week — which accompany the fair at top London auction houses Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips — there will be “a lot of American buyers taking advantage of the weakness in the GB pound.”
Frieze “is a very big part of the art world”, stressed Davis, calling it “a great meeting point for collectors, gallerists and artists from all over the world”.
It comes a week before Art Basel holds a major new art fair in the French capital called Paris+, but she said less experienced collectors see Frieze as a safer bet.
“Paris+ is smaller and better for more seasoned collectors. Frieze is better for new collectors as it’s big and established”, Davis said.
London has recently lost its spot as the second largest art market in the world to China, behind the United States.
But it still retains cachet for collectors.
“London is the place to be when you love art,” said the US collector Robert.
“During Frieze you have dinners all over the city, parties everywhere. It’s exhausting, but there is nothing like Frieze.” ©AFP