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Droit de suite is pushing art sales away from Europe

New report concludes that the levy mainly benefits artists’ estates

Maastricht

Artists’ resale rights (droit de suite) are due to be harmonised throughout the European Union (EU) on 1 January next year. This month, as the Tefaf fair opens in Maastricht, the organisers are launching a report, “Global resale market for modern and contemporary art”, prepared by the Texas-based art economics research firm Kusin and Co.

Droit de suite is payable by vendors who sell art by living artists or those who died under 70 years ago. It works on a sliding scale, from 4% to 0.25%, and is capped at E12,500 ($16,000, £8,600) on any one sale. The European trade fears that, when it is applied throughout the EU, it will push vendors to sell in the US, where the levy does not exist. “We are very worried”, says Christie’s ceo Ed Dolman. “Clients look carefully at the costs of selling and will go where they can to get the best deal.”

David Kusin, president of Kusin and Co., says that in preparing the report, his brief was to assess the impact the new levy would have on the European art trade. “As we analysed the data, we discovered that the displacement of art sales from Europe to the US is already even more dramatic than we thought”, he says. “Our report shows that the levy has far wider implications.”

Kusin and Co. also looked at the potential benefit to artists of droit de suite, and their report states that, if the levy had been collected on all eligible auction transactions in the EU in 2003, the heirs of deceased artists would have received 83% of the levy, while only 17% would have gone to living artists. The total number of artists whose work was sold at auction over the period analysed was 13,863. In addition, a large number of artists sold at auction would not have been eligible for the droit de suite levy since they did not hold nationality of an EU member country, nor did they come from a country with a reciprocal agreement to enforce the levy. This bolsters one argument against the levy, that it does not primarily benefit living artists since these figures show that artists’ estates are the main beneficiaries of droit de suite.

The report assesses the size and structure of the market in the EU. It gives figures for total global sales in the modern and contemporary fine art auction market in 2003; these amounted to €1.14 billion ($1.47 billion, £785 million), which represents about 32% of the total value of the international fine art market.

In 2003, the EU accounted for 45% of global art sales, and the US 46%. Within the EU, the UK was by far the largest market, with over half of all art traded. However, the US had the highest average auction price, at $72,618 (€56,410, £38,873) in 2003, nearly double that of the EU average.