When I and a few enlightened colleagues started talking about the art world and money in about 2009, hardly anybody was interested and we were very often asked why we bothered. Within a few years, nearly every agency and artist-facing organisation was talking about artists, art and money if they had any sense. The mainstream art magazines like Frieze still don’t talk about it very much except in a celebratory way, as if there’s nothing at all problematic about the whole high-end art scene, because their reason for being and their main income is from courting the (rich) hand that feeds or fists at its own whim.
Likewise, I have asserted for many years that the real story at the top end of the art world is not how bad, irrelevant and vapid most of the art and most of its suppliers are– don’t get me wrong, they are all of these things and we need to expose and talk about that– but instead the main issue is that the art world is inextricably tied up with the tax evasion, money laundering, international subversion of the rule of law, and a general lack of common human decency, all of which are impoverishing and holding back 99% of the world’s population. No rich person is unique, above the herd or entirely self-made, no matter how much they might like to think they are. They benefit from the physical and electronic infrastructure, education, labour, subsidy, policing, bureaucracy (and so on) provided in one way or another by every state in the world; in some ways, and in some countries in particular, rich people benefit from these things even more than an ordinary person. Rich art collectors, dealers and superstar artists are for the most part parasites on all of the aforementioned and upon publicly funded art institutions and galleries, not to mention the grass roots, unfunded artist initiatives that in turn feed into these institutions. And yet it’s still not enough. They want it all.
And so we come to the Mossack Fonseca leak, which can hardly have escaped anybody’s notice. Surprise! The documents are full of evidence about how the 1% use the buying and selling of art to dodge taxes, launder money and commit crime.
The founder of China Guardian, the world’s fourth largest auction house, is hiding money offshore along with many other members of the country’s political elite.
Russian oligarchs defrauding one another through buying and selling paintings.
No doubt there will be more and worse as the data is sifted and processed. This really feels like one of those points in history where there could be real reform or it could be heads on sticks time. In either case I don’t think we should leave the choice up to the 1% rich, because we already know perfectly well that their choice will be status quo and neither of the above.
Bonus venal, overprivileged twat caught with her hand in the till:
To avoid a full trial, the former managing director of the Centre Pompidou admits to misusing public funds after spending €40,000 on unnecessary taxi journeys. Interesting that the French slant on this is that she is a civil servant because she worked for a publicly funded institution. Absolutely fucking bang on: work for a publicly funded gallery? You are a civil servant, even if you’re not officially a civil servant. You work for the people. Remember that.