The Mysterious Buyers of the Art World Who Spend Too Much Money And Keep It Undercover

The contemporary art market has begun to pick up speed over the past two decades, with new innovations marring the playing field every five minutes. But since the art market as we know it first emerged, one phenomenon has persisted as a common practice: anonymizing the buyer.

This week, Christie’s made headlines when the auction house sold Andy Warhol’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe, Shot Blue Marilynfor a staggering $195 million.

The sale set a new record for the most expensive work of art of the 20th century ever sold at auction, only the legendary merchant Larry Gagosian winning the auction, but he did not reveal who took the work on his behalf. The buyer’s true identity remains a closely guarded secret.

The buyer who paid more than $1 million to make “invisible art” at Sotheby’s in April? Anonymous. Who Dropped $57.8 Million on Picasso sleeper in 2018? Phillips will never say unless they are pushed.

With the rise of NFTs, some happy cryptocurrency buyers are willingly starting to expose themselves for influence and interest, but in the vast majority of the auction world, this is still not the case.

“It’s standard company policy that no buyer information is publicly disclosed, and then, if someone requests an extra layer of anonymity that can’t be seen internally, that can certainly be arranged as well,” Rebecca Pauling, Senior Specialist and Head of Century Art. st in Philips. Protecting the identity of the buyer is a rule that is universally followed throughout the art market, from auction houses to galleries, Pauling said, and names are generally only disclosed if there is a specific request, which must then be approved by the buyer. A Sotheby’s spokesman declined to comment on the anonymity of the buyer.

However, in some cases, auction houses may have to disclose the identity of the buyer. “The auction house cannot keep this information secret forever,” said Nicholas O’Donnell, an attorney with Sullivan & Worcester and a member of the Art Law Committee of the New York City Bar. “It is not par excellence. What happens with some repetition is that something about the sale or follow-up sale goes awry, there is a dispute and one of them goes to court. Once a lawsuit is filed, people can issue subpoenas.”

Mark Porter, Christie’s President of the Americas, looks at Alex Rutter announcing Christie’s will introduce Andy Warhol Shot by Blue Marilyn.

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Many factors contribute to buyers’ desire to remain anonymous at auction venues. “There are a variety of reasons, from simple privacy and not drawing public attention to your spending to the more strategic fact that there is a power in the world that doesn’t know exactly what artwork or assets you own,” an art consultant (you guessed it) who asked not to be named said.

If a buyer is working on a collection of works by a particular artist, revealing his or her name may alienate the game from competitors and trial. In other cases, collectors may choose to remain anonymous simply because their insurance company insists on it for security reasons, or because of the possibility of theft, Vasily Kleiman, an art consultant in New York City, said.

Buyers also have options if they don’t want to push their bidding paddles into the air themselves, so to speak.

“Often a buyer might assign a dealer to bid on it, as Larry Gagosian did at Warhol,” said Kaliman. “A lot of buyers who bid anonymously also do so with a phone bid at the auction. They have a relationship with a specialist at the auction house, who guarantees their privacy. More people are using the dealer’s service as proxy bidding than you might think, especially at the higher end. from the market “.

Loose lips sink ships. Those who do not know speak and those who speak do not know.

Anonymous technical advisor

The anonymous technical advisor said: “Loose lips sink ships. Those who do not know speak and those who speak do not know.”

Some buyers, especially in the booming cryptocurrency space, are spending huge sums in auctions anonymously only to later reveal their identities with the boom. “I think it might be a generational thing,” Pauling said. “I definitely see it with the NFT collectors, where they want us to tell the artist, who was basically the sender, and who they are. That’s not something that would happen in the traditional art world, where things seem more secretive.”

A receipt has arrived to certify the transfer of an invisible work by French artist Yves Klein entitled Immaterial Photosensitivity Zone, Series No. 1, Region No. 02 On display at Sotheby’s in Paris.

Chesnot / Getty Images

In other cases, buyers’ names are revealed in more revolving ways. Pauling said that collectors could be invited to loan their possessions to an institution for a major retrospective art exhibition, where the lender would have the option of allowing their names to be included on the labels identifying the artwork.

Or, the anonymous art consultant offered, “real estate listings or interior design magazines will auction anonymously acquired works,” linking art pieces to easily identifiable residences.

The ubiquity of anonymity in the elite art market has long been a point of contention among those who believe that a lack of industry-wide transparency paves the way for money laundering and fraud. In February, however, a US Treasury report said implementing more regulations to prevent illicit transactions in the art market was not a priority.

“I think it is unlikely that regulation in any short time frame will have a significant impact on anonymity,” O’Donnell said.

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