Art and Brexit - a conversation about the situation

A conversation with artist and sculpture network member Johannes von Stumm about Brexit and its effects on artists and the art market.

General overview: United Kingdom Great Britain and Brexit

The withdrawal of Great Britain from the European Union - "Brexit”
The word Brexit was created by the fusion of the two terms "British" and "exit".
Britain's exit took place on 31 January 2020, since when the UK has been a third country, i.e. a state that is neither a member of the EU nor of the European Free Trade Association EFTA. There is a so-called transitional phase until 31 December 2020, during which further negotiations on relations between GB and the EU will take place. If no agreement is reached, trade will be subject to the rules of the World Trade Organization.
The border between Ireland and the UK is a separate issue. Here, the crossing of the border and the trade in goods should not be made more complicated, as this could lead to unrest among the population.
The date of resignation was postponed several times, which was also due to the fact that the prime minister(s) did not get the necessary majorities in the parliamentary votes.
Why Brexit?

A larger part of the inhabitants of Great Britain hoped to save money compared to the EU by leaving the country. The money now released was to remain in the national budget. This was fueled by Boris Johnson, who campaigned for withdrawal and wanted to allocate this sum, which is currently being paid by the UK to the EU, to the National Health Service. Another point in favour of withdrawal by the Brexit supporters was that the country should regain control of its own immigration policy and that immigration should be curbed. These arguments, together with strong publicity for the withdrawal and its (supposed) benefits, led to a 51.89% popular vote in the EU membership referendum on 23 June 2016. This decision was very close, but the process was purely a referendum, which was not binding on either the government or parliament. Scotland had voted to stay in the EU in this referendum.
Economic developments

Brexit is expected to cause economic losses in the UK and also in the EU. The UK imports a variety of agricultural products and goods for daily use from the EU and other countries. It is becoming apparent that products from the European area will become more expensive due to new customs regulations. It is also feared that the necessary customs controls and new import regulations will slow down the trade in goods in the UK, as the waiting times for clearance at the borders will take longer.
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Johannes von Stumm, "Emptiness II", stainless steel, 200 x 130 x 100 cm, picture by: Michael Dunning
I spoke with the artist Johannes von Stumm about Brexit and its consequences for art and culture in Great Britain.
Johannes von Stumm, born in Munich in 1959, is a sculptor and has lived and worked in Oxfordshire since 1995. The preferred materials for his room-sized sculptures and installations are stone, glass, wood and metal. In addition, he also works with the space between individual figurative elements that belong together, thus creating immaterial sculptures. He is President of the Oxford Art Society and President of Open Studios West Berkshire and North Hampshire, as well as Past President Royal Society of Sculptors and a founding member of Sculpture Network.
Dear Johannes, how do you see the issue of Brexit and what are the drawbacks for artists in the UK?
I see the topic negatively. There are fears that working as an artist and living in the UK will be more difficult. Works by artists from the UK are probably only for sale in EU member states with customs declarations. It is to be expected that when works are sent by truck, they will have to be cleared through customs. As all goods and food traded between the EU and the UK are processed at this point, long waiting times must be expected at these points. The same applies to materials that are imported from the EU to GB for the production of plants. It is also possible that these will become more expensive. For example, it can be assumed that there will be long waiting times at the handling points when goods are imported into GB.
What are the implications for the art market?
After the transitional period, customs duties will be levied when the goods are exported to the EU. This happens when works of art are brought to an exhibition in an EU member state, but also when the works are sold. At the moment the tax for works of art is 10%. The respective amount is to be paid immediately each time the works of art are exported to the EU, including exhibitions. If works of art are very expensive, a six-figure sum may be due, for example. In addition, in times of economic uncertainty, art and culture are given a low status in society and are no longer considered to be of such importance. Art is increasingly perceived as a luxury good and is less in demand. Public investments in art and culture are reduced or cancelled, and private sponsors are also more reluctant to purchase works of art and postpone this until a later, economically better time. As a result, works of art are sold at lower prices at auctions, for example, or only renowned artists and auction houses or galleries are able to compete in the market. In economically difficult times, art as an object of investment and speculation is only possible for a very wealthy clientele that invests primarily in established artists. These circumstances lead to a loss of sales throughout the entire industry and are all the harder for up-and-coming young artists who are not yet so well-known and therefore have not yet been able to generate a secure financial income. It is to be feared that the creative industries will relocate their centres from London to the continent.
Johannes von Stumm, "Ball", glass, bronze, stainless steel, limestone, granite, wood, 36 x 46 x 43 cm
Johannes von Stumm, "Ball", glass,
bronze, stainless steel, limestone, granite,
wood, 36 x 46 x 43 cm
Are there any attempts by artists, galleries, museums, collectors to leave the UK, especially if there is a second leg to stand on in an EU country, and are you thinking about it?
It is known that the European Union Youth Orchestra, founded in 1976, is moving its headquarters from London to Ravenna in Italy. If artists or galleries have a second foothold in Europe, intra-European sales or exhibitions will be easier and cheaper to handle via these destinations. For artists who have mainly exhibited in the EU, a second studio on the continent could also generate better starting and marketing opportunities on the art market. Companies are also relocating their headquarters to the EU. Dyson, for example, has moved its headquarters to Singapore. For me, a second studio within the EU would be very helpful for the handling of exhibitions.
What will the exchange between artists* in the UK and the EU look like in the future?
From an artistic or scientific point of view, the exchange is decreasing. Semesters abroad will become more complicated and also the financing of these will be more expensive, because students from the EU will have to pay a higher semester fee now, as from all other countries. Similarly, many (multilingual) people are applying for a second passport and applying to the continent. Many qualified people move to the EU because of the unclear and feared negative effects.
Likewise, artists from Europe will consider going to the UK for a longer period of time or for the realisation of a project, as it is not clear what their status as foreigners is.
Are there any positive developments in the arts, among artists or for the art market if the Brexit is executed?
At the moment there are no known positive effects of the Brexit for art or the art market. Whether this will change is not foreseeable, but unlikely. 
Is Brexit seen as an artistic theme in the UK?
Not very much in the visual arts. However, in art the subject of social criticism is increasing, especially in performances and the actions, overall art is less pictorial. There are also comedy/cabaret evenings on the subject of Brexit, where either the opponents or the supporters of Brexit are discussed in a biting way. Brexit is also very popular in political cartoons.

Art about Brexit

The works of Johannes von Stumm can also be read politically. I would like to present three of his works of art on the subject of Brexit.
Johannes von Stumm, "Twenty Four", glass, bronze, stainless steel, limestone, granite, wood, 40 x 49 x 49 cm
Johannes von Stumm, "Twenty Four", glass,
bronze, stainless steel, limestone, granite,
wood, 40 x 49 x 49 cm
The works "Ball" and "Twelve" consist of limestone, granite, glass, bronze and stainless steel, the work "Twenty-four" additionally also of wood. These works symbolize togetherness. Just as the components could stand alone, they are more than the sum of their parts. They are in balance and yet appear fragile. If, theoretically, you take away even a single part, the work of art no longer functions and loses its cohesion. In the works of Johannes von Stumm, balance and interaction, the introduction of different, even contradictory segments, is always a major component of the work. These works of art symbolise an alliance consisting of different parts and have a reference to the theme of the European community, which can only function if everyone pulls together, nobody is forgotten and everyone feels connected to the unity. If you remove one part here, or, as in the case of the United Kingdom of Great Britain's withdrawal from the EU in the case of Brexit, the balance of the alliance is severely disturbed and a non-functioning or collapse of the system becomes more likely. Even the part that has been taken away (or is leaving) suddenly stands on its own and has become more vulnerable to attack from all sides. The works of Johannes von Stumm show a community in harmony, a common growth and a great cohesion. The artist skilfully reflects a coexistence of the most diverse materials, which symbolically stand for an EU in front of Brexit.
Emptiness I, Stainless steel, 752 print.jpeg
Johannes von Stumm, "Emptiness I", cast stainless steel, 20 x 21 x 10 cm

In Antwerp in the Galerie Verbeeck - van Dyck it was planned to show new works by Johannes von Stumm in the period from March 27, 2020 to April 26, 2020. Unfortunately the worldwide corona crisis has prevented the exhibition of artistic objects for the moment. In the exhibition the "Intangible Figures" should be shown. At the moment it is still unclear when the art objects will be shown there in the above mentioned gallery.

These "Immaterial Figures" are about a tension between emptiness and the material surrounding it, which at the same time gives the "form" of emptiness, of immateriality. These works of the artist symbolically reflect inner cohesion and stability, in which the individual parts recede behind the strong and powerful emptiness that outshines everything, making it seem light and alive.

We thank Johannes von Stumm for the interesting conversation!

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Author: Dr. Eva Daxl

Eva Daxl studied art with a focus on sculpture. In her PhD thesis she wrote about ceramic materials in art criticism. She is therefore familiar with three-dimensional works of art in theory and practice.

Title, top: Johannes Stumm, "Twelve" glass, bronze, stainless steel, limestone, granite, 54 x 54 x 54 cm


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