London Art Scene after Brexit and the Pandemic

2 November 2021

London Art Scene after Brexit and the Pandemic

During the Frieze Week in London, you usually don´t know where to stop first. There are plenty of events happening, from the art fair itself - Frieze London and Frieze Masters - as well as collateral fairs, through to prestigious evening auctions and rare museum shows and finally, to tonnes of private gallery views. This year, the overall atmosphere was slightly more modest - not only due to the pandemic, but also because of Brexit. However, there were still several events that caused a burst of excitement.

Three years ago, Banksy´s art piece partially self-destructed after selling for just over one million pounds at Sotheby’s live auction. „That weekend was crazy, people queued outside on the street to see the shredded Girl with Balloon,“ remarked Adéla Šmejkalová, former employee of the auction house, and continued: „The global exposure that this event received was immense. It was a performance that transformed the artwork into a conceptual piece of art which has since become part of art history. I believe the artwork would be worth twice the price now.“

The same artwork, but now renamed Love is in the Bin, was put up for auction with an estimated price three to four million pounds, already a decent increase from its initial purchase price. The owner refused a guarantee offered by Sotheby´s, so they were evidently confident that the price could climb even higher. Unsurprisingly, the auction house also greatly supported the sale with a special dedicated campaign and even erected its own half-shredded flag outside its headquarters.

On Thursday night, Bansky´s piece went on stage under „lucky lot number seven“ as the auctioneer noted. Three buyers were bidding in the salesroom on New Bond Street, one online and five over the phone. About seven minutes later, under a fierce surveillance of flashing cameras, Love is in the Bin set a new world record for the artist at £18.5 million, moving into the hands of an Asian collector.

"It was the Asian market where Sotheby's and Christie's have seen the largest increase in sales compared to the US and Europe, mainly due to younger collectors," said Veronika Lukášová, senior analyst at London based Art Market Research (AMR).

The physical presence of Asian and American collectors in London during Frieze Week was certainly not as low as it was at the recent Art Basel fair. Travel restrictions had slightly loosened just in time for visitors to arrive to London, so the larger problems were in the end, faced by galleries importing works of art. They were met by stricter and more laborious customs controls thanks to Brexit.

Despite these complications, Frieze art fair did not lose any of its charm and visitor popularity. Reported sales proved to be almost the same as usual and the painting was king, not only according to contemporary art advisor Bojana Popovic: „I felt like there was a real return to more traditional painterly qualities with many figurative artists being showcased at the fair this year. Having said that, there were also a few very experimental booths that featured art that was inspired, or even made by, machines.“ Art historian and journalist Michaela Banzetová agreed and stressed more contemplative way of presenting art.

As for the machines, another must-see experience was Anicka Yi's vision of a new ecosystem within the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. Originally part of the power station, Yi’s installation populates the space with machines once again. Floating in the air, her machines – called aerobes – are based on ocean life forms and mushrooms. They re-imagine artificial intelligence, and encourage us to think about new ways machines might inhabit the world.