Buying high-priced art | Good investment policy or easy target for art thefts?

Buying high-priced art | Good investment policy or easy target for art thefts?

BY ANANT ART  MAY 30, 2017

By Ria Sarkar

With an increase in cyber crimes and the like, nothing is 100% secure when it comes to money matters. In light of the recent global attack that hit 150 countries, a bank account is just a set of digits waiting to be hacked by the next black-hat computer nerd sitting halfway across the world! But there is a way the criminal world keeps an eye on their money and it's simple. Buying expensive works of art!

In fact this is an age old tradition adopted by conspirators to hide money acquired through dubious means; and yet demonstrate to the world their supposed penchant for the arts. In all fairness, some serious collectors have managed to amass brilliant collections of thoughtfully chosen works that they now lend to museums and art exhibits. But with them came a whole army of pseudo collectors, mostly consisting of the nouveau riche that go by popular choice and current trends in the art market to collect works by famous artists.

Art Theft Policy

Why do they do it? Because it's a convenient investment policy that allows you to enjoy a work of art as well as not lose sleep over someone robbing your bank and bleeding you dry. With a few valuable artworks in your pool, there is the added advantage of increased resale value should that particular work go on to achieve a higher value than it was sold in. It's all about luck and the art market's condition, but if you have the money buying an original Van Gogh or Matisse is really a sure shot way of securing your investment.

Nevertheless, it's all hunky dory for the prospective buyer but let's come to the other side of the spectrum. What happens to the people storing an expensive artwork? Owning or in fact even exhibiting sought after works of art can be quite a task and subject the person or institution that takes up the responsibility to possible art thefts. With access to state of the art technology, these days there is a raging business of forgeries and skilfully planned thefts often forcing museums and galleries to exhibit well-executed fakes, and keep their precious originals securely locked away. The rate at which forgers have crept into the market is alarming and at times, even experienced conservators have trouble discerning a high class replica from an original.

Art Theft Policy

It might be difficult to digest the fact that art crime is now third on the worldwide list of highest grossing criminal trade, after drugs and guns. This has happened because till date, art sales involve very unreliable paperwork which mentions a work's 'provenance' but is not legally necessary to be listed publicly under a registry. The amount of criminal income generated by art thefts all over the world is estimated to be a whopping 6-8 billion dollars, as claimed by the FBI. UK quotes about 300 million pounds worth of losses incurred in art and antiques every year. (1)

Former member of the FBI Crime Team Geoffrey Kelly points out in a recent article that famous works of art make for great collateral in drug or money laundering deals. (2) When a 100 million dollar deal is going down it's much more practical to carry around a costly painting than multiple suitcases packed with cash. In case the deal goes south, at least you can make a speedy getaway!

References

1. http://www.newsweek.com/2014/07/18/after-drugs-and-guns-art-theft-biggest-criminal-enterprise-world-260386.html

2. http://mentalfloss.com/article/53527/biggest-unsolved-art-heist-and-detective-who-came-close-cracking-it

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