Why a weaker sterling isn’t all that bad for London’s Frieze art fairs

Fears over what Brexit could look like has cast a pall over the U.K., yet a weaker pound could be a blessing in disguise for London and its art scene, a former CEO of Christie's explains.

"It's a very short-term event. I mean the fact that the sterling is down for the moment is helping art perhaps a bit for non-UK buyers at this moment," Steven P. Murphy, former Christie's CEO and now founder of specialized advisory firm 'Murphy and Partners', told CNBC Friday.

This week, international art lovers and investors have been flooding into the British capital to attend Frieze London, which shows contemporary art, and Frieze Masters, which concentrates on classical and modern works.

The art fairs, which take place every October in London, invites enthusiasts in to discover new as well as celebrated artists for as little as £100 ($123.50) or less, to several millions. And this year, a weaker pound is definitely a bonus for international buyers.

"It's dangerous to look at the art market and call a trend from a weekend or a one season sale, just as I would advise clients if you want to buy a piece of art and see it increase value, you have to wait five years to hold it."

"But for this weekend (at Frieze) and for the auction this week, the fact that the pound is cheaper is an incentive."


Dickinson Gallery, Frieze Masters 2016
Photograph by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze.
Dickinson Gallery, Frieze Masters 2016

Murphy's comments come on the back of a sharp drop in the U.K. sterling, seen during Asia's market trade on Friday. The British pound fell as much as 6 percent, tumbling to as low as $1.1819 against the U.S. dollar.

No explanation has yet been given as to why the pound fell as much as it did, yet analysts have given suggestions from a "fat finger" error or low liquidity sell-off, to fears over the U.K. economy and a "hard Brexit".

Consequently the U.K.'s recent decision to leave the European Union has been another factor shaking up London, with questions being raised over whether the city has a future as a leading center for the art market.

Yet Murphy told CNBC he wasn't worried: "All of us looking at the Brexit effect are waiting to have the Brexit effect (and) to see what the Brexit effect is — so we're in the same pause as every other industry."

"I would say though that in the art world, two things are happening. The art world is now fully and actually for the first time ever — a truly global event. Buyers from all over the world can buy anything anywhere in the world at any time. However, the hubs of art activity still are New York, London and probably over the next five-six years: Shanghai or Beijing."

"So those bricks and mortar centers are very important. You can't recreate easily what goes on in London between museum attendance, galleries, collectors, art fairs, auction houses — that's a whole world of art activity that brings the world to it. And that probably won't change."