How offshore firm helped billionaire change the art world for ever
The panama papers are looking into the works of the one percent and how they move money through fine art. Excellent read
Lot 33 spun into view, hanging on a revolving panel. The brilliantly coloured Women of Algiers (version O), Pablo Picasso’s postwar masterpiece, was moments away from finding a new owner.
The year was 1997, and 2,000 people had assembled at the Manhattan salesroom of the Christie’s auction house. The collection of Victor and Sally Ganz, one of the most important caches of modern art in private hands, had drawn a capacity crowd. The audience grasped their bidding paddles, surrounded by smartly dressed assistants manning 60 specially installed telephone lines.
“Sixteen million,” the auctioneer announced. “Nineteen million … 20 million, 20 million dollars … 22 million … 27 million dollars? Twenty-eight million …”
When the hammer came down, the art world had changed forever. A London dealer, reportedly acting for a mystery Middle Eastern client, had paid $31.9m for a canvas acquired 40 years earlier for $7,000. The Ganz auction was regarded, even at the time, as a milestone. It marked the moment when art became a global commodity, an investment alternative to property and stock markets, at least for those at the top of the money tree.
“All of a sudden the game was afoot with the Ganz sale in a way that hadn’t happened before,” says Todd Levin, director of the Levin Art Group, a New York-based art advisory firm. “It was like a steroid injection to the market.”