A View from the Market – Q&A with arts barrister, Andrew Bruce

As the outbreak of COVID-19 has intensified, the UK art market, an inherently international industry, which thrives on both its domestic and global events, has felt the unprecedented effects. Despite this, the art market is proving a very resilient and flexible industry finding new and innovative ways to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances we are finding ourselves in.

Art Law & More brings you A View from the Market, a series of Q&As with figures from different realms of the art world as we uncover how they are adapting to the new normal, their reflections on how COVID-19 could change the future of the art market and the great importance of art and creativity.

We continue the series with Andrew Bruce, barrister from Serle Court.  Andrew has a noted art law practice (being recommended in all the legal directories for Art & Cultural Property work) and was junior counsel in Thwaytes v. Sotheby’s (the case about Caravaggio’s painting of ‘The Cardsharps’).  Andrew sits as a Deputy District Judge and is an Arbitrator at the Court of Arbitration for Art (CAfA).

What day to day challenges or benefits are you facing as a result of the current situation?

The lock-down is difficult and strange for all of us.  My 3 daughters no longer have school to go to and my wife is, like me, working from home.  Fortunately I have got the study, whilst my wife has ended up in the living room and the girls are in their bedrooms.  Working from home has proved less disagreeable than I imagined (for me, that is; not necessarily for those I live with).  A lot of my work is written (opinions, pleadings and skeleton arguments) and I can research and prepare these documents as easily now as before the pandemic.  What has proved difficult is the absence of face-to-face professional and social contact which has meant no Court trials or physical hearings.

In your view, how is the global art market changing and adapting currently?

The global art-market is a resilient beast and whilst the closure of galleries and the postponement of auctions and art-fairs will be hard, it will, like the Court system, find work-arounds that will accelerate its entry into a more digital age.  For the Courts, video hearings (by Skype, CVP, Microsoft Teams or other bespoke platforms) have become far more common and, just so, online auctions, exhibitions and fairs will necessarily have to develop.  Of course, in the same way that appraising a witness in the flesh is far preferable to assessing an on-screen image, there is no substitute for physically seeing or experiencing an art-work.  However I am sure digital exhibitions and auctions will complement and enhance the traditional art-market in future years.

Have you been particularly impressed with any of the ideas or initiatives that particular individuals or organisations in the art market have developed in response of the current situation?

The “Clap for our Carers” tribute has demonstrated the generosity of spirit of people and the support for the NHS in Britain.  It is great to see artists such as Sir Peter Blake, Jack Tilson and Mark Titchner creating downloadable art-works which can be displayed by us all to demonstrate support, hope and community.

What long term effects (positive or negative) do you think this will have on the area of the art market in which you operate?

Unfortunately the fact that civil witness trials have largely stopped will mean that there will be a logjam of cases awaiting trial in the Courts over the next year or so.  This will effect the speed of justice.  Litigants will thus look to speedier, more discrete alternative means of dispute resolution.  More disputes will be dealt with through mediation and arbitration such that initiatives like the Court of Arbitration for Art ought to flourish.

Is art and creativity more important now than ever?

Yes.  Sitting as a Judge during the lock-down I have seen a rise in the number and seriousness of domestic abuse cases requiring Court-intervention.  Strains on relationships, well-being and mental health have been exacerbated by the current situation.  Whilst it would be facile to suggest art can heal these wounds, creativity (whether it be drawing, painting or sculpting, making music or understanding beautiful objects) can relieve some of the anxiety and fear associated with enforced quarantine.

If you are using new forms of technology, do you think you will continue to use them in the future?

Yes.  As a result of the pandemic, I have made more use of video-conferencing and I am currently preparing a webinar for next week.  Undoubtedly the greater familiarity with these technologies which I have been required to develop will prove useful once we return to “normal”.

What are you doing/what do you think we should all be doing to prepare for when we go back to ‘normal’?

I am afraid “normal” still seems a long way off and I fear that social distancing may become increasingly accepted.  I am not sure that this is necessarily good for anyone’s mental well-being.

What do you think is the most valuable lesson we can all learn from this new way of life?

The importance of family, friends and key-workers (be they NHS staff, bin-men or supermarket workers) has been emphasised by the lock-down.  This must not be forgotten.  Also, it may be that pollution and ecological damage to the planet have reduced in the last few months.  If so, then some good may come out of our understanding that quite a lot of business travel is not really essential.

One thought on “A View from the Market – Q&A with arts barrister, Andrew Bruce

  1. Guy Sainty says:

    Being closed down altogether had been a challenge and as 80% of our business is with non-UK clients we have no idea how long it will take before they are able to visit London. As the UK government export-licensing department is closed for 3 months, even if we were to sell a work more than the value at which a license is required, we could not deliver it. However what we have done is produce a series of short videos (that can also be seen on YouTube on Stair Sainty Digital) that can be seen on our web site, here: https://www.stairsainty.com/videos/ and shall be producing more over the next few weeks. We have then sent links to collectors and curators and have had a very positive reaction and many inquired about prices, etc (no sales yet though!).


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