Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
Keynote at MACCH conference about whitewashing reputations
MAASTRICHT. Where does all the money that is being pumped into the art market actually come from? “There is too little discussion about this question. It is about a lot of money, sometimes with dubious origins.” Olav Velthuis, associate professor at the University of Amsterdam and specialized in Economic and Cultural Sociology, delivers the keynote speech at the MACCH conference in the Bonnefanten Museum on 19 March: About whitewashing reputations in the art market.
“At the upper end of the art market, there are the collectors who are fabulously rich, people whose wealth runs into millions. I find that a problem in itself already. If there is one place where you see economic inequality, it is in the art market,” says Olav Velthuis (1972), who has a background in both Art History and Economics. “Estimations from auction houses show that approximately a hundred to two hundred people in the world are willing to spend more than 100 million dollars on a work of art. The group that I speak about in my keynote address, is a bit larger. Every year the American magazine Art News draws up a list of the two hundred most important art collectors. I looked at the way in which these people earned and managed their money. I used public resources, such as articles in the media, but also reports on court cases, for example on corruption scandals, tax evasion or insider trading (trading on the stock exchange on the basis of confidential information).”
With most collectors there is nothing wrong, only a minority has a problematic background. Meaning that they earned their money in a “less legitimate manner”.
Of course there are also marginal cases. Some practices seem strange or dubious, but are still legitimate. Such as an American art collector who earns his money from aggressive Mixed Martial Arts events. “In the state of New York, these martial arts are prohibited, but in other American states they’re not.”
Velthuis does “not want to point an accusing finger,” but start a discussion about where the money comes from that is going around in the art market. “As an artist you can easily say that you do not want to sell your work to such a collector. But that is never said. There are few artists who even know about this. There is a real lack of information. Others stick their heads in the sand.”
Another example. Russian multimillionaire Abramovitsj, the owner of the English football club Chelsea, buys a lot of art and invests money in the development of the art world in Russia. For example, he financed the most important private museum, the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow. Detail: “He acquired his wealth in the nineteen-nineties in the former Soviet Union when public enterprises were dubiously sold off for very little to a select group of buyers.”
“I have no illusions that an auction house will say: ‘We will no longer do business with this Abramovitsj’. And that is not my aim either. But maybe there are those who will say: ‘Well yes, that is how things were done in Russia in the nineteen-nineties, those were different days.’ Another case, in which the gossip factory is doing overtime, concerns Ukrainian multimillionaire Viktor Pinchuk. He was apparently advised by a PR company to start buying art in order to boost his reputation. A good example of laundering reputations, says Velthuis. “People having become mixed up in a case which hasn’t done their reputation any good, want to polish their image by buying art. There is a social motive behind this, one of the three main motives that I distinguish in the process of buying art, in addition to the financial and aesthetic motive.”
MACCH conference on fair and just practices
During TEFAF – from 11 until 20 March – the Maastricht Centre for Arts and Culture, Conservation and Heritage (MACCH) will hold its annual conference. This time, it will be in the Bonnefanten museum and the theme will be: Fair and Just Practices.
In this centre, researchers from four Maastricht faculties (Arts and Social Sciences, Law, School of Business and Economics and Humanities and Sciences) work together in the field of art and heritage research; the official kick-off was last year. The Stichting Restauratie Atelier Limburg and the Sociaal Historisch Centrum are also allied to MACCH. The centre has a strong research section – working both on its own initiative and on behalf of others (services) – and is involved in education. One of the successes was the acquisition of a European subsidy for NACCA: fifteen Ph.D. candidates were appointed for this project in the field of ‘conservation and contemporary art’. Students are involved too, for example in a feasibility survey for a euregional museum pass (cooperation with ‘border’ institute ITEM).”
On Friday 18 March, two inaugural lectures will take place within the framework of the seminar. First, Prof. dr. Pip Laurenson will hold a lecture on ‘Practice as Research: Unfolding the Objects of Contemporary Art Conservation’ followed by Prof. dr. Rachel Pownall on ‘The arts and finance’. The keynote speaker on 19 March is Olav Velthuis, Associate Professor at the University of Amsterdam.
Fake it or Leave it!
In co-operation with Lumière and Studium Generale, MACCH is organising a film programme. Like the conference, the film series aims to analyse, visualise and contextualize fair and unfair practices in art and heritage worlds from a variety of disciplinary and trans-disciplinary perspectives. The films: F for fake (Orson Welles) on 15 March, Beltracchi: the art of forgery (Arne Birkenstock) on 16 March, The rape of Europa (Richard Berge & Bonni Cohen) on 17 March. The films are followed by a debate or have an introduction by an expert.