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Special reports

Brexit bargain hunting?

Why a weaker pound is unlikely to give buyers a Frieze bonus

by Cristina Ruiz  |  5 October 2016
Brexit bargain hunting?
As Frieze opens the value of the pound falls further
The pound this week slumped to a 31-year low due to the turbulence caused by Brexit. But although tourist spending in London rose after the UK voted in June to leave the European Union, few think that the devaluation will give much of a boost to British galleries taking part in the Frieze fairs.
Some dealers, though, are more bullish. Rupert Wace, who has brought a Roman marine mosaic to Frieze Masters, believes that the effect of sterling’s devaluation is “considerable”. He says: “Immediately after Brexit, we made a couple of US sales. Currently, the effect is notable, so foreign buyers should take advantage of it.”

Yet the opportunity for collectors to make the most of the pound’s fall has probably passed. The New York-based art adviser Todd Levin, the director of the Levin Art Group, says: “At the time of the vote, I had clients who had just bought art from UK galleries. Right after the vote, I called those clients and explained that they should pay for those works immediately, because the arbitrage meant that they had just received a 10% to 15% discount.” But Levin thinks that UK dealers have now counteracted the pound’s fall by raising their prices.

“There’s no point increasing your prices if you’re selling to a British market, but if you’re selling to, say, Germans, it might be tempting,” says David Juda of Annely Juda. He is showing work by Yoshishige Saito at Frieze Masters. Juda says he has not raised prices and is offering work from £1,500 to £150,000.

Most international galleries with outposts in London sell works in foreign currency and so are unaffected by the devaluation. “We don’t price much in pounds—mostly in euros and dollars,” says Angela Choon of David Zwirner. The gallery has stands at Frieze Masters and Frieze London, where it is showing new pieces by Kerry James Marshall.
Some UK galleries also price works in foreign currency. Bernard Jacobson, who is showing work by Robert Motherwell at Frieze Masters, says: “We buy Motherwell in dollars, so we sell him in dollars. With others, such as Pierre Soulages, we buy in euros, so we sell in euros.”

“Nobody is going to fly to London for Frieze based on the devaluation of the pound,” says the London-based collector and dealer Kenny Schachter. But he thinks it might incentivise foreigners to bid at this week’s contemporary art auctions. “If you want to buy a piece by [the New York-based artist] Rudolf Stingel, then it makes sense to buy it in pounds instead of dollars,” he says.

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