CEO Letter | The Venice Biennale and A Royal Baby

Over the next few days I will be in Venice, as a guest of Boster Group, for a preview of the Venice Biennale. From now until the Biennale opens to the public on Saturday, 25,000 artists, patrons, collectors, advisors, journalists and museum directors from the world’s major cultural institutions will come to the art world’s DAVOS, and, before the show’s end in late November, 600,000 visitors will have been to see the art happenings in the Pavilions of the Giardini, in the Arsenale and across the city.

By Helen Brocklebank

It’s arguably the most important event in the art calendar, and whilst the Biennale, unlike Frieze and Art Basel, is not a selling exhibition, there’s nowhere that more clearly defines the market. It captures the zeitgeist of what’s new and compelling in art, and establishes the tone and taste of a global art market that was worth $64.7 billion in 2019, according to the latest Art Basel + UBS study: the second biggest year in a decade. Of course, the Biennale is also a magnet for global wealth, as the quantity and size of the yachts moored around the Arsenale will attest, and it’s this, as well as to see the art, that brings me to Venice.

The collector of Edmund De Waal’s or Jeremy Deller’s work is also a connoisseur of watches and property, fine jewellery or wines, yachts and motorcars, high-end fashion and luxurious hotels. It’s about much more than acquisition – whilst the art market is a market, the appreciation of culture, as well as an appetite for it, goes much deeper and is very much part of the behaviour of the super-affluent consumer.

As Times Luxx Editor, Kate Reardon told me when I spoke to her at the end of last year, “You don’t get to be that sort of person [the 1%] without being sophisticated and a very, very rounded person. The super-rich are not these one dimensional caricatures of cigar-chomping fat cats… they are humans with a hinterland.” I aim to come back from Venice with an even deeper understanding of the power of art and culture to connect with these ‘humans with a hinterland’, be they philanthropists, collectors or interested observers, and, with Frieze on the horizon in London (let’s not forget that the UK is the second largest art market in the world), I know I’ll return with a nuanced view on how British luxury can engage even more deeply with those passionate about the art world.

Of course, it’s not only to quietly pop the world’s wealthy in my secret research lab that takes me to Venice, I’m also delighted to be part of a panel discussion, conceived and hosted by Boster Group with whom Walpole worked on last autumn’s event at the Deutsche Bank Private Wealth lounge at Frieze. The panel will explore the arts as a vehicle for soft power, and examine how economies around the world are harnessing cultural tools for diplomatic, economic and political purpose. Soft power is a hugely important conversation for British luxury brands at the moment as we look to underline our contribution to the UK’s global reputation. It’s hard to imagine the global artistic and cultural landscape without the prodigious cultural contribution of Britain – and British luxury brands make hard-working, powerful Ambassadors for that contribution, side by side with the other creative industries, not to mention shining examples of creativity, ingenuity and entrepreneurship.

In a world where so much is changing and so much uncertainty abounds – not least the saga of Brexit – the title given to this year’s Biennale by its curator Ralph Rugoff, of London’s Hayward Gallery, ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ feels particularly apt.

For more ponderings on Rugoff’s theme, and for highlights of the Biennale and of the panel discussion, follow @walpoleceo on Instagram.

Baby Sussex

New babies, Royal or not, are always a cause for celebration, but the news of Baby Sussex gives Walpole an extra filip. At the risk of sounding horribly mercenary when the baby hasn’t even been named yet, I can’t help but reflect on the positive effect the news will have on sale of British luxury goods, particularly in the USA, the sector’s most valuable market (forecast to be worth $103.5 billion by the time Baby Sussex is two). According to a recent Walpole/Brand Finance study, US consumers are 73% more likely to feel positively about buying British than they were two or three years ago, thanks to the impact of the younger Royals, and the Duchesses in particular.  As Alex Haigh, Director of Brand Finance, told us, “The Monarchy is one of the most defining features of Brand Britain and the Royal impact on the desirability of British luxury brands cannot be overstated. Endorsement by any Royal, but particularly the Duchesses, is like the mythical golden touch and can transform a brand’s performance overnight”. If the Duchess of Sussex or Prince Harry sport British brands, it improves UK brands’ prospects with 35% and 31.9% of US customers respectively. So, huge congratulations to their Royal Highnesses on the birth of their baby boy, and an enormous thank you from British luxury for the resulting boost to sales. You can read this report by clicking here.

PS. As reported in this morning’s Daily Digest, luxury bookmakers Fitzdares have odds on a selection of potential Royal baby names – I would have thought the odds on naming the baby Donald would have been even longer… have a look, and possibly have a flutter.