The Disappearing Act of the World’s Most Valuable ArtRoundup
Earlier this year, Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) fetched the highest price ever for a work of art at a public auction: $179 million. An auctioneer declared the painting “the most important Picasso after the war,” while a critic described it as an absurdly overpriced work lacking the “fire of genius” of Picasso’s earlier pieces.
You will probably never get to see it in person and judge for yourself. The anonymous buyer will likely keep the work safely locked away, protected from the flash of tourists’ cameras or risk of thievery.
The Geneva Freeport advertises itself as just the place for that famed Picasso, and thousands of other valuable works of art. If it were a museum, it would probably be “the best museum in the world,” asserts Jean-Rene Saillard, director of Geneva’s Fine Art Fund Group. Instead, the Geneva Freeport is a state-of-the-art storage facility, guaranteeing optimal conditions and security for the valuables it houses. Also enticing is the fact that free ports, zones with relaxed regulations for goods in transit, are exempt from customs and taxes.
Conveniently, there is no timeline requiring these goods “in transit” to leave their secure vaults — ever — and goods can change hands within the facilities, also tax-free. There could be as much as $100 billion worth of art stored in the Geneva Freeport, though that information isn’t publicly available (secrecy is another key selling point of the facility).
In the context of growing wealth inequality and mistrust of traditional financial assets, the global art market has been booming in recent years — particularly for the most expensive pieces. A record-breaking €51 billion was spent on art last year, according to the European Fine Art Foundation. Yet the market is not as healthy as the impressive numbers might suggest. ...
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