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UK art world prepares for no-deal Brexit

March 18, 2019

With the March 29, 2019 deadline looming, art institutions and galleries across Britain are preparing for Brexit by shipping works to and from the European Union in advance.

Men moving statues
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Haid

As Theresa May prepares her next steps for coming to a deal on Great Britain's withdrawal from the EU, art galleries and institutions across the UK have begun making moves in line with a possible no-deal exit.

Based in part on advice from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, some in the British artworld are using the run-up to March 29, 2019 to ship works of art between the EU and the UK to avoid any possible delays.

Read more: Brexit: Is the EU willing to grant an Article 50 extension? 

Among those works being sent are those by artist Cathy Wilkes, who is representing the British pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale, according to The Art Newspaper. The paper also noted that an exhibition at Tornabuoni Arte in London is closing early in order to ship works by Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana back to Italy before the deadline and avoid a hefty bill from the government there to reimport the paintings.

"It has always been the case that as we get nearer to that date, preparations for a no deal scenario would have to be accelerated," the government's advice, updated in February 2019, reads. These preparations include anticipating long delays during the import/export process should the EU and UK not come to an agreement on the terms of the latter's withdrawal from the European body. The ministry also warns that customs tariffs of individual countries within the EU could apply.

"Not worth the risk"

Speaking about plans to ship works by Eva Rothschild out to Venice ahead of the Biennale for the Irish pavilion, Mary Cremin told The Art Newspaper, "We don't know what's going to happen after 29 March but it's not worth the risk of things getting held up at customs." Cremin is the commissioner and curator of the pavilion and director of the Void Gallery in Derry, Northern Ireland. Although Ireland will remain in the EU, Northern Ireland would not; one of the contentious issues in the Brexit agreement has become the divisive border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which could be hardened by a no-deal exit.

Henrik Hanstein
Henrik HansteinImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Precautionary measures are likewise taking place in Europe, as DW's Stefan Dege found out in an interview with Henrik Hanstein, head of the Kölner Kunsthauses Lempertz and CEO of the European Federation of Auctioneers (EFA). Although Hanstein himself said that it was difficult to predict the impact of a Brexit on the art market — London comprises one-fifth of the world's market — he fears the uneven art trade between the EU and the UK could lead to an exodus of goods post-Brexit.

"They happily buy between one-third and 40 percent of their goods from the continent," he calculates, "but only sell 20 percent on the continent."

Read more: Photographer Martin Parr captures the British soul in the countdown to Brexit 

Pre-Brexit moves on offer

While Hanstein appears to be taking a 'wait and see' approach, some collectors have already begun shifting their collections to the continent. According to Hans-Ewald Schneider, head of the Hasenkamp art shipping company, potent collectors and gallery owners have grasped the advantage of making their moves before Brexit takes place. "Many private collectors are bringing their assets to the EU so that they face no hindrances."

Hans Ewald Schneider
Hans-Ewald SchneiderImage: Hasenkamp

Schneider told DW's Stefan Dege that his logistics company was preparing for all contingencies — moving artworks between the company's temperature-controlled warehouses across Europe and, if necessary, renting additional storage facilities. Facing border controls, added customs formalities and long waiting times for border checks, Schneider is certain of one thing: "Art transports will become more expensive."

"If we have to, we'll return to doing what we did 40 years ago, driving to Calais to carry out customs clearance, taking the ferry across the channel and then clearing customs on the other shore. Every day lost at the border costs a forwarding agency between 1,500 and 2,000 Euros," he said.

"This Brexit is a senseless waste of resources."

ct/als (Reuters, The Art Newspaper)