Aside from the useful reminder that London’s role as global art-trading center is not as long-lived—especially in contemporary art—as many might assume, Jonathan Jones has a good essay on how the spectacular success of the YBAs and Contemporary art has benefitted Britain’s position in the world:
In the 1980s London had only a few art dealers, most of them around the Cork Street area in the West End. Only Anthony d’Offay played an important part in the global contemporary art scene with his representation of Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys and Jeff Koons. The explosion of artistic creativity in London at the end of that decade revolutionised metropolitan galleries, with Matt’s Gallery, Maureen Paley and White Cube among those leading the way. By the time Tate Modern opened in 2000 London was in the midst of a surge that has made it one of the world’s artistic capitals, with every major world gallery seeking to get in on its booming business. […]
The vogue for art sustained by the rise of the London art market has also energised galleries and festivals in Liverpool and Manchester, and sustains the Scottish art scene. Free movement is obviously essential to this most worldly of businesses. The paradox is that it is precisely the parts of British life we can be most honestly patriotic about that Brexit will smash. Since its “cool Britannia” takeoff in the 1990s, London has now kept its status as a world cultural capital for 20 years. That is a much longer period of artistic eminence than it enjoyed in the 1960s. It is in fact the most spectacular age of global eminence in art it has ever enjoyed. We are rubbish at football but good at art – and selling art.