Art Under Lock and Key

Leonardo da Vinci's painting "Salvator Mundi" was sold at auction for $400 million. Since then, it has been under lock and key in one of the Freeports that have sprouted up around the world in recent years. They offer wealthy buyers of valuable art a duty- and tax-free space to store their art acquisitions.

So what, you may think. Who cares? So far, hardly anyone minded, because hardly anyone knows about it. What happens to privatized art, and the question of whether what happens to it is in the spirit of art, is not one of the topics that make the headlines.


Value enhancement through public presentation

What is familiar to all of us is the purchase of very valuable works of art by very wealthy private individuals, with which they then either decorated their homes or loaned the art to a renowned museum.

In the latter case, it usually boils down to the fact that this loan serves the purpose of increasing the value of the artwork through its presentation in prominent houses and the public perception associated.

As soon as the value of these works increased sufficiently due to their museum display, the generous loan has fulfilled its value-enhancing purpose. Then the owner takes the painting back into his possession and sells it at auction for a considerable profit. The new owner can, if he wants to and finds a willing museum, continue this game.

In addition to the owner’s financial gain, this practice also brings the museum a financial gain and the public an intellectual gain, at least for a limited time. After all, these works of art do not disappear from the public eye immediately after being acquired by a private buyer, but have been shown in their original form, accessible to the public for once.

But in the end, there is only one winner – the private owner of the artworks.

I remember an extensive conversation with the director of a renowned museum, who strongly criticized this instrumentalization of museums for the mere purpose of increasing the value of art for its private owner. That was fifteen years ago.


Value enhancement through the exact opposite

If one considers the developments in this regard, brought on by Freeports constructed in the direct vicinity of airports in the recent years, the aforementioned museum director might have been happy about the circumstances he previously bemoaned. Now the museums no longer play any role at all in this game of increasing the value of art.

After being purchased by a private buyer, art often no longer ends up int the interim storage of a museum but is moved “off-shore” into a bunker, where it is declared as “temporarily stored” for an indefinite period of time and at low cost.

Here, art, alongside high-quality jewelry and pure gold, functions solely as a crisis-proof investment with the prospect of profit in a time of uncertain money. The operators of the Freeports also make a good deal. Customs and tax regulations, which were actually intended for a short-term interim storage of valuable goods in a transit zone, are being applied here for an indefinite period of time. And this under strictest lock and key. Not even the mayor of Geneva is granted access to the Freeport there at his request.


The capital value of art levels its true value

What the mostly long-dead artists, to whom we owe all the great works of art for which astronomical auction prices are paid today, would say about this development remains an unanswered question.

Some of them moved in the space of courtly or otherwise zeitgeist expectations. They had princely or even royal fans, or financial backers, which in no way diminishes the quality of their works. The artworks were often only put on canvas by other artists under the direction of the masters themselves. Others ignored the spirit of their time and, in the free spirit of their creative work, countered the prevailing understanding of art of their time with something so magnificent that it found no buyers. Many of them lived more poorly than well from their art during their lifetimes.


Their works are now on an unleashed market of surplus money. Well-known art fetches six-figure digits in the millions on this market. And the works of contemporary artists are deliberately maneuvered into a hype that earns their works a value in at least the single to double-digit millions. The inner logic of the system brings increasing amounts of money into circulation year after year. More and more people have millions in assets, which they are looking to invest. These are no longer the art collectors of the 20th century, for whom – despite all sorts of other interests – a genuine interest and often even a real love of art was always the decisive driving force behind their actions.


These investors are people for whom art is nothing more than the better alternative to shares. A financial investment, an object of speculation. As such, it can be exchanged at any time for another investment that promises a greater increase in value. For me, this is tantamount to saying that these investors don’t care at all about art itself.


Hardly anyone else criticizes this moral decay in dealing with art more bitingly than Banksy. May we be spared the experience that even he may one day turn out to be a cleverly disguised player in this game.


Art is for everyone

As I understand it, this development is the exact opposite of what constitutes the meaning and purpose of art. While museums in the “old system”, despite all the criticism that can be levelled at their exclusive concept of art presentation, still created a publicly accessible space, this new development of art privatization is creating a previously unknown, exclusive space that follows different laws. Art in a vault. One could also call it “art in a bunker”.

In this space, art cannot and may not follow its actual purpose. It is deliberately and systematically prevented from meeting people, from inspiring them and at best even from making them happy. This is diametrically opposed to the approach of the OUBEY MINDKISS Project. Even though not all of OUBEY’s work has been published as part of the MINDKISS Project to date, the aim of the project is nevertheless clearly to make this work accessible to as many people worldwide as possible in the simplest way possible.

As for almost everything, a label has now been found for this project-“low-threshold access” to art. As objectively correct as this choice of term may be from the point of view of others, it implies the defamation of what the actual goal of this MINDKISS project is. For this is not about higher- or low-threshold access. This is about free access for all.



Another word about private wealth. Private wealth has multiplied in the last twenty years. Rich people can exert influence because of their private wealth. That has always been the case in principle. But the number of those who can do so has increased enormously. Few of them have generated this wealth entrepreneurially like a Bill Gates or an Elon Musk. Today, they no longer invest the majority of their wealth in the increase of wealth by buying art and bunkering it for the long term to increase its value, but by making future-oriented projects possible. For that, they have my greatest appreciation.

More Dagmar Woyde-Koehler