A new report published to coincide with last month’s Fine Art Fair makes depressing reading for Europeans. Commissioned by the fair organisers and produced by the Dallas number-cruncher David Kusin, it charts the decline of the European art market compared to the US.
Among the report’s key findings are a drop in the average price of a work of art sold at auction in the EU (-39% from 1998 to 2001, while in the same period the average price of a painting advanced 75% in the US). Europe has lost 7.2% of its global share of the market, allowing the US to overtake it, 47% to 45%.
The report, sponsored by the British Art Market Federation, the French Syndicat National des Antiquaires, and the European dealers’ federation CINOA, puts the blame for this state of affairs on European regulations and taxes. It notes that “the EU, in its tax policies toward the art economy, is running counter to the trend...of enhancing market liberalization and free trade between nations,” and singles out for particular blame artists’ resale rights, the dreaded droit de suite which is being introduced throughout Europe.
Anthony Browne of BAMF told The Art Newspaper, “The whole purpose of the report is to look at the art market in Europe from the point of view of economics, employment, culture, and to dissect it so that politicians will realise it is worth preserving”.
Asked whether there is any hope of changing existing European regulations, Mr Browne said, “At the moment there seems to be no reverse gear, we go on and on, adding regulations, but governments don’t seem to be able reassess directives. I do think however sooner or later there will be a reassessment, in light of job creation in Europe, and I am also hoping that VAT will be reassessed because of its damaging effect on the European art market. I am not terribly sanguine but I hope the report will create a more positive attitude. If we do nothing this decline, identified in the report, will simply carry on”.
A dissenting voice comes from François Curiel, chairman of Christie’s Europe, who said, “These figures do not really correspond to what I am seeing. Since August 2001 I have seen a clear regain of activity in Europe, and the February sales in London made over £100 million, with 70% of buyers from Europe, so old Europe is not doing so badly!”.
There may be, however, another, simpler reason why so much trade is moving to the US, and that is simply because the country’s readiness to buy is so much greater. European dealers do much of their business with Americans (the report notes that the “the US is by far the major source and destination country for trade in paintings in the EU”), and as the world’s biggest economy it is also the world’s richest and strongest art market. While avoidance of droit de suite certainly made sense for Christie’s Gaffé sale (the vendors would have had to pay at least $1.5 million of this duty if the collection had been sold in Paris), it may be less important in the case of less valuable collections.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'US takes 47%, Europe 45%'