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Happy New Year!

2020 promises to be a fascinating one for the art market and for countless museums shaping up to bring us some sensational shows this year. The strong stock market, the steady cash-creation of central governments and the consequent keen hunting for top calibre works of art at the close of 2019 means that the early part of the year – namely BRAFA (a Brussels Art Fair) and the February auctions here in London, will be bursting with bidding and buying.

There is one fly in the ointment that will have played on the minds of potential consignors to the big auction house sales in February here in London: the build-up to the general election on 12th December. Although the Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary auctions are stoked by an international calling there has been an unsure political situation in the UK; not only with the Brexit situation but also the possibility of a profoundly left-leaning government. Given that the main business-getting period falls in November and early December very little will have been consigned in that six-week period. However, the overwhelming majority for the Conservative government has eased nerves amongst collectors and we should see a busy few days amongst consigning clients as the floodgates are primed to open.

I envisage big sweeping changes at the auction house Sotheby’s this year. The house has been split into two different organisations with Fine Art and ‘Luxury’ being separated. More online auctions of watches, jewels, wine and handbags will make for stronger margins as the fine art dealing arm gets squeezed by both constant competition and need for high-priced ‘PR lots’ in which commission rates are often slender. According to ‘The Art Newspaper’ the new owner, Mr Drahi, says that he aims to cut costs by 66m USD which is pretty hefty in light of overall 2019 net income being 108m USD. Ultimately, the big two auction houses are brands that can be monetised like no other and I see no reason why a successful re-calibration of their business model can’t reap rewards. It is only important that the brands are not watered down – Sotheby’s were once a brand of cigarette (and, worryingly, Sotheby’s champagne has made a comeback).

As to the great shows to see in London over the course of the year the standout for me is the Andy Warhol at TATE modern which is going to be a Summer blockbuster par excellence. Titian at the National gallery in London sounds very promising indeed but the main opening of the year must surely be the Museum opening in Cairo of ancient artefacts including over 5,000 items form the tomb of Tutankhamun. The Frank Gehry project to give a new life to the Philadelphia Museum looks wonderful and will be the centrepiece of US re-openings in 2020 offering over 8,000 sq. meters of new space.

Overall this looks like a wonderful year to be in the art world. Please use an advisor when buying works of art at high prices and, just as importantly, we all wish you a very happy 2020!

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