Money Laundering, Racism and Gender Bias - Dirty Secrets of the Art World
The purpose of this article is to bring awareness. I recommend you do your own research and come to your own conclusions.
My conclusion is the current art world pricing structure is not as it should be - it is racist, it is gender-biased, it is corrupt, and it does not reward exceptional art and artists.
The reason why I have decided to write this article is to talk about a bit of controversy that’s currently taking place among the art circles as it relates to art prices.
The artworld is filled with a lot of interesting stories and I have highlighted a couple of the most intriguing stories of 2021.
For decades, the major auction houses, such as Christie's and Sotheby's, have enabled the buyer and the seller to remain anonymous. This, in turn, has enabled art to be sold for astronomically high prices, often in the millions and tens of millions of dollars.
Why? It is a fabulous way to launder money.
An article released by ArtNews summarized part of the “Art Industry and U.S. Policies that Undermine Sanctions" report wonderfully:
“U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations observed that “[t]he art industry is considered the largest, legal unregulated industry in the United States.” In 2019, the U.S. was the world’s largest art market, representing about $28.3 billion, or about 44 percent of global art sales.”
I first realized the connection with money laundering when I saw this article in the New York Times in 2013 "Valuable as Art, but Priceless as a Tool to Launder Money". The piece below titled “Hannibal” was completed by Jean-Michel Basquiat, who died of a drug overdose in the 1980s. Jean-Michel Basquiat was touted as one of the first Black American artists of notoriety by the ‘critics’ at the time.
The piece “Hannibal” has transitioned from one buyer to the next and ended at $8 million when it was being smuggled back into the US by a Brazilian banker under a $100 shipping customs label. The Brazilian owner is serving time for tax evasion, money laundering, and several other charges.
Now, my fellow artists, do you think this is worth $8 million?
Note: this image is provided in Fair Use "(in US copyright law): Fair use permits a party to use a copyrighted work without the copyright owner's permission for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research.."
In 2020, governments passed new legislation to help prevent this type of money laundering activity, but nothing has changed so far, the law takes effect in December 2021. Here is an excerpt from an article on ArtNews
“..the U.S. government recently enacted new laws and published regulatory guidelines that will have major implications for art dealers, collectors, and anyone engaging in the art trade. The new laws, which are similar to measures already in place in Europe, apply existing anti-money laundering and sanctions regulations to some art-market participants. The government will begin implementing these laws by December 2021”
If you really want to dive deep into just one case about 2 Russians laundering money, then read THE ART INDUSTRY AND U.S. POLICIES THAT UNDERMINE SANCTIONS report.
BUT the dirty secrets will continue - NFTs are a discussion for another day, as Christie's takes on this gift horse to further enable money laundering.
Let’s talk Sex and Politics in the Art World
To further expose the dirty secrets of the art world, major art galleries are accepting people based on preferential treatment of race/gender/political affiliation.
Christie's sold the artwork of a teenage, transgender artist for a whopping $2.16 million at auction.
Was this price paid for the talent? Or was it really because the person was a transgender teen?
What’s more astonishing to find is that this particular artist has already made $18 million in his career, and he is only 18 years old. (and btw...my beef is with the art industry - not this person, I’m sure he’s a good kid and he is in a good spot to take advantage of the circumstances and his little Instagram post was smart marketing - so good for him - but it is bad for every other artist...).
I don’t pretend to be an art critic, but I do know there are artists with greater experience, more qualifications, and similar artwork who are not awarded such prices.
I can’t help but think of the prejudice against males, females, straight and Christian and God forbid the person to be a white-straight-male - then everyone goes bat shit!
In the art world, artists are not rewarded for their merit but rather their identity. Here are articles that give more notoriety of the identity and not the art:
- “Christie's sold Teenage, Transgender Artwork for $2.16 Million at auction”.
- This $90 Million Gay Painting Just Broke Art World Sales Records
I ask you should race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, really matter in determining the price or value of art?
The answer is no - but it does. And it is wrong.
In the current climate where politicians love to play identity politics, it is very disheartening to see that quality work goes unnoticed while people pay absurdly high prices for art pieces that lack merit and experience.
Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden sold his artwork in a “secret art sale”.
Again, I have to ask this question: “Was this bought because of the talent or the person behind it?”
The White House has come up with a solution for the President’s son being able to sell his artwork: by allowing anonymous buyers to pay thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars anonymously to buy Hunter Biden’s art pieces.
According to the Wall Street Journal, The White House thinks that this will get rid of the ethical dilemma if Hunter does not know the identity of the purchaser of his art.
Just because every deal is done in secret does not mean that the best ethical practice has taken place. In fact, in all other circumstances, the opposite is asked!
Frankly, it is absurd to think about this arrangement by the White House as ethical - especially given all of the unethical and unparalleled BAD decisions the current administration has made - but again, I encourage you to dive into the bullshit as I have, form your opinion, and see how clean you feel after.
Many critics have said, listed in the resources section, that the list prices that are being offered for Hunter’s pieces, ranging from $75,000 all the way up to a whopping $500,000 is too high and does not reflect the true value of the artwork.
In a case like this, transparency would have been a better option as the offers could have been scrutinized in real-time and if any unscrupulous activity had taken place, the public would have had knowledge on that matter.
The notion that Hunter Biden will be able to put up his work for sale and hundreds of thousands of dollars will just simply appear in his bank account without him or the public knowing about the full details of the transaction just does not sound right at all - especially with such close access to the President.
Is money laundering afoot, is something unethical taking place? That's for you to decide. I do however know 100% that this is an injustice to every working artist and every artist who wants to be a professional artist.
The artworld is broken, our art pricing system is broken and who is getting dimensioned - you.
The following is a list of some of the most recent instances of the art industry's failures in fairly pricing artwork.
Again, the purpose of this blog post is to bring awareness, I recommend you do your own research and come to your own conclusions about how the pricing structures are inadequate.
My conclusion is the current art world pricing structure is not as it should be - it is racist, it is gender-biased, it is ruled by corrupt affiliations and it does not reward exceptional art and artists.
How do we make change?
We work together.
Help me spread the word, share this article on your social networks.
Inspire - Motivate - Create!
Order your copy of the book "Art Pricing Secrets: Ethically Pricing Creativity. The Formula That Works." here.
“Hunter Biden’s Secret Art Sale” Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/hunter-bidens-secret-art-sale-11625869490
“Hunter Biden paintings pose ethical challenge for president” Available at: https://apnews.com/article/joe-biden-business-lifestyle-government-and-politics-arts-and-entertainment-9a91a8b87dadac7ef7f04743b41fdcbb
“Trans Teen Artist’s Work Sells For $2.16 Million At Auction” Available at: http://gomag.com/article/trans-teen-artists-work-sells-for-2-16-million-at-auction/
NPR: Hunter Biden's Paintings Are Going On Sale, Drawing Critics Of Art And Ethics: https://www.npr.org/2021/07/14/1015895944/the-latest-ethical-pitfalls-involving-joe-bidens-son-hunter
Supporting website articles/videos:
The Black Box of the Art Business: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TSE2TcMduc
"How New Anti–Money Laundering Laws Will Affect Art Collectors" https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-new-anti-money-laundering-laws-will-affect-art-collectors
"Christie’s Launches Streaming Service That Allows You to Watch Money Being Laundered in Real-Time": https://hyperallergic.com/633326/christies-streaming-service-money-laundering-april-1/
“White male artists dominate US galleries”: https://cosmosmagazine.com/society/white-male-artists-dominate-us-gallery-collections/
“Museum art collections are very male and very white”: https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2019/may/21/museum-art-collections-study-very-male-very-white
“Gender Bias Reveals Consequences For Female Artists”: https://www.npr.org/2020/01/24/799163534/gender-bias-reveals-consequences-for-female-artists
“Christie's sold Teenage, Transgender Artwork for $2.16 Million at auction”: http://gomag.com/article/trans-teen-artists-work-sells-for-2-16-million-at-auction/
This $90 Million Gay Painting Just Broke Art World Sales Records: https://www.intomore.com/culture/this-90-million-gay-painting-just-broke-art-world-sales-records/