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Salvator Mundi and the unreality of the art market (the-tls.co.uk)
42 points by blegh 58 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 14 comments

It's not just the art market, though. The numbers are absurd in the fine art market, since it's a place where rich people go to compete with each other in games the rest of us don't get to play.

But eBay is full of sci-fi memorabilia with certificates of authenticity. A uniform actually worn by Patrick Stewart on screen sells for more than one that was made for him but not worn, which sells for more than a copy made with the same materials. You might actually be able to wear the latter, but the first two would just be set out for display, like the Mona Lisa.

That's a game we can all play, and while I'm not really much into it, I am proud of my author-signed Klingon Dictionary for no good reason -- especially since I never even look at it. It's weird watching hundreds of millions of dollars exchange hands for trinkets, but when you're talking about multi-billionaires, it doesn't really surprise me that they would similarly want to own truly one-of-a-kind things with a poorly-defined "authenticity".

A huge payment for a piece of art is also a convenient way to legitimately pay for goods or services that you don’t want to be assoicated with.

Eh, kind of. If buyer A is trying to obfuscate transmitting $100 to the seller, and the painting would normally sell at auction for $7, then somehow buyer A needs to boost the auction sale price up to $107.

I’m not saying that it can’t be done - just that for the paintings that do sell for over a hundred million dollars, there usually really are people and organizations at the auctions who believe the paintings are worth that much.

This is a huge oversimplification, and it would be trivial to "boost the auction sale price up," just have other people bid as well

Exactly. Reserve buyers exist for exactly this purpose

I have a running debate with one of my friends about the future outlook of these markets. We both agree that perfect replication of many physical collectibles (e.g. mtg cards, comic books) will become possible over the next few decades. My belief is that this will cause authentic values to decline. His belief is that this will cause authentic values - confirmed by certificates and the like - to skyrocket. I still prefer my position (and it’s fed into a growing sense of anti-materialism) but truthfully could foresee either outcome.


The archaeology community has been dealing with this for years, and supplied this interesting read.

The art market, though, I assume is mostly money laundering.

>> replication of many physical collectibles (e.g. mtg cards, comic books) will become possible over the next few decades.

Good luck perfectly replicating the printing press, laminating machines, holographic features and paper required for it.

If you take the diamond market as a valid analogy, you would be right.

The cheat code:

— buy painting for $5 million

— have a museum value it at $15 million a few years later

— donate painting

— write off $15 million in taxes for a charitable contribution

Clearly the museums have an incentive to fudge the numbers for rich donors.

Yes, a museum director is fundamentally a tax guy. They’re not paying for the work that gets “donated,” so a museum director is a negotiable third party who is highly willing to appraise works at values the Donor suggests.

The incentive for the Museum to inflate the value of the work that gets donated to them is inflating the supposed value of their holdings. The incentive for the Donor is tax evasion.

OH WAIT I meant “tax avoidance.”

It gets even crazier — there are people literally buying new paintings at higher prices to inflate the value of existing holdings. So let’s say you buy 3 Vassarely’s @ $200k each (or insert semi-hot artist here). You wait 4 years and have someone else buy a 4th Vassarely piece for 3x that price point. Now you use the inflated value for that single piece as a comp for the other 3 pieces that will then be donated. Art market reps basically find ways to facilitate these types of things.

This is why you always see wings of museums named after rich folks.

Fine art is also the most efficient way to launder money.

The reason for the rapid increase in value is completely inscrutable to regulators or the IRS, so it is the perfect tool of international financial fraud.

fraud is one of it but it's also a extremely high density store of value, if world war 111 happens it's easier to take your da vinci knowing when the dust settles it'll have value than 100 bars of gold

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