More than five years after the Brexit referendum, the cost of leaving the single market continues to mount. In the hours before collectors swept in, some dealers at Frieze were fraught with stress. As the VIP opening neared, several stands stood largely empty of art.
“It was extremely difficult to get our art through British customs,” says Alex Mor, the co-founder of the Parisian gallery Mor Charpentier and an exhibitor at the fair. “Our truck was delayed in Dover for two days. It was a mess.”
“Our papers were right. But the British customs rules kept changing—one day you need one thing, the next day you need another,” Mor says.
Some exhibitors spoke of organising transport to Frieze far earlier than normal only to see their art backed up in lorry queues or stuck in port containers, as a shortage of drivers caused fuel and food supply strife in the UK.
Three European galleries exhibiting at Frieze had their art held up in transport blockages while another three said Brexit was behind their decision not to participate in the fair this year.
Franck Prazan, the founder of the Parisian gallery Applicat-Prazan, says the lack of clarity around transport and customs “meant we chose not to apply to Frieze”.
"It has become extremely complicated to work here [in the UK]. Right now, it’s not worth it”Alex Mor, the co-founder of the Parisian gallery Mor Charpentier
Prazan also notes the complications of having to register art as temporary imports and exports. “All unsold art that entered the UK for Frieze now needs an export license to return to Europe,” he says.
Joseph Abisaleh, the UK general manager of the fine art shipping company Convelio, says dealers looking to ship works to UK fairs face spiralling prices and more red tape. “Galleries now need to use special customs procedures,” he says. “These add complexity, cost, paperwork and delays at customs.” He adds: “To be able to successfully convert sales at Frieze, dealers need confidence they can provide competitive and reliable shipping options to their clients. This is hindered by Brexit.”
Johann König of Berlin’s König Galerie says Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has damaged his view of the UK: “Brexit has drastically complicated trade and travel between the UK and Europe on every level,” he says. “It’s a shame to see the UK regress to a position of imposing borders.”
Mor says he may not attend Frieze next year if Brexit-related disruption continues. “We love London. We have a lot of clients here,” he says. “But it has become extremely complicated to work here. Right now, it’s not worth it.”