Guest post by the marvelous Demi Pietchell over at The Starfire Codes
Modern art is a vehicle for money laundering. Always has been.
Basically, anything that can be produced for next to nothing and sold for a great deal of money could be used for money laundering.
When value is dictated by the market itself and attributed value is subjective, value can be created, fabricated. Cernovich @CernovichRight. If rich Democratic donors pay $100,000 for each of Hunter’s paintings, how can you question it? Perfectly legal. Democrats are smart. https://t.co/NFY56fg6j5 December 18th 2020
For instance, a work is commissioned from an artist for $25k and then is sold to someone else for $1M. The sale boosts the artist’s career through media exposure creating a market surrounding that artist’s work.
That artist’s work then retains “value.”
Commission a piece from that artist at a low price and sell it for a higher price, it looks like the buyer is buying art. But that art is often a voucher for a favor or a bribe, and moving art around is easier and less obvious than moving around a great deal of cash or attempting to hide an electronic transfer of funds via centralized traceable means.
And these newly valued artists are then able to travel the world doing museum and gallery tours – as covert assets. Their access to high value targets and the ease of explanation for their business travel make for a great cover story.
This happens in business too. Ask yourselves why Patrick Byrne, by his own admission, was tapped by FBI to make introductions for the purpose of setting up bribes. Not that this wasn’t already covered long ago by Chuck Barris and made into a Hollywood film about his life, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. The business travel and the meetings among high value people are unassuming and can easily be explained away as merely running in the same social circles.
Once the artist is traveling and developing a career, the value of the artwork increases. The artwork is harder to come by, due to the price tag, and the value of the piece increases. The person who bought the piece as a bribe or a voucher for a favor is often left with something even more valuable than the money they had when they began.
The investment in the piece creates a win/win scenario for both the buyer and the seller. And once the artist is dead, the value of the piece increases even more due to scarcity.
“Financial freedom my only hope
Fuck livin’ rich and dyin’ broke
I bought some artwork for one million
Two years later, that shit worth two million
Few years later, that shit worth eight million
I can’t wait to give this shit to my children
Y’all think it’s bougie, I’m like, it’s fine
But I’m tryin’ to give you a million dollars worth of game for $9.99.”
And any industry that has elements of celebrity and travel can be used as cover for ops in which the positioned influencers have a better chance of gaining access to some high value target.
So… art, filmmaking, fashion, high level business, media, etc.
Blackmail, assassination, moving large sums of money in the form of paint on canvas by commissioning pieces and staging a gallery showing….
How does it take so long for people to figure out this was always a money laundering scam? I’m sorry, but a blank canvas valued at a bazillion dollars might be just a smidge obvious, no? How do you NOT question that?
I was reading a post from an old acquaintence who is an art professor about how much she hates sitting in on art critiques in Zoom calls – “They were bad enough in person, I don’t understand what they’re saying anymore, and it just gives me a headache.”
If the art were technically proficient, you wouldn’t have to come up with jargon to describe it. The jargon is to put people off from paying attention BECAUSE it gives them a headache.
Try explaining to most artists that this is a racket. They will defend the butt ass naked emperor to the death. Most will dig their heels in and expound upon the virtues of modern art and how dare you and blah blah blah when it only HAS value because the CIA created the market in order to STORE value and they own that outright.
No one taught the artists how to *create* value for their work. Most of them don’t get it. This is why “making it in the art world” is so tough. Because no one tells students to take classes on how money laundering works… I’m joking – but it means that artists do not learn how to make a living. Which makes ART SCHOOL a racket too.
The key to making it in that world without technical proficiency is to speak gobbletygook fluently while befriending a lot of people who need to launder money. Art school just teaches you to rote memorize the gobbletygook. But you wouldn’t need to develop gobbletygook proficiency in the first place unless you were trying to pass your art off as more important than it is culturally so it would seem plausible that it would command a sale that large.
If you’d rather not hang out with people doing nefarious things for which they require money to be laundered, you can’t be a modern/postmodern artist because you won’t find anyone who needs money laundered and you won’t be able to support yourself. Kudos for being honest, but you’re going to have to find some other gig.
Unless, again, you’re technically proficient. In which case, people will commission work from you. They will – egads – hire you for your skill, not your capacity for word vomit and looking the other way.
To add another layer of fuckery into the mix, the nexus of money laundering and the modern art world has gone digital with the rise in popularity of non-fungible tokens or NFTs, cryptographic assets on blockchain with unique identification codes and metadata that distinguish them from each other, which many already considered to be hype or a fad without the added potential for laundering and tax evasion.
There is little to no hard data on money laundering and NFTs so far, but considering criminals go where there is money to be made or recouped, it’s likely they will turn to NFTs sooner or later, if they haven’t already. As we all know, it’s even easier to transport a digital file than it is to move around a piece of artwork, so it would seem to most that this would be the money launderer’s logical next step.
Abrams, L. (2015). Laundering money through art, if you’re into that sort of thing. Hopes and Fears. [online] Available here: http://www.hopesandfears.com/hopes/culture/art/214699-guide-to-laundering-money-art
Bertrand, N. (2020). Congressional probe: Russian oligarchs using art to evade sanctions. Politico. [online] Available here: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/07/29/probe-russian-oligarchs-evade-art-sanctions-386154
Bhattacharya, S. (2021). Hunter Biden’s Art Will Soon Hit the Market for Up to $500,000 Per Piece. Washingtonian. [online] Available here: https://www.washingtonian.com/2021/06/14/hunter-biden-art-is-for-sale-for-up-to-500000-per-piece
Biddle, S. (2010). How the CIA Spent Secret Millions Turning Modern Art Into a Cold War Arsenal. Gizmodo. [online] Available here: https://gizmodo.com/how-the-cia-spent-secret-millions-turning-modern-art-in-5686753
Cascone, S. (2015). Dr. Doom Warns of Art-World Money Laundering in Davos. Does the art market need better oversight? Nouriel Roubini thinks so. Artnet. [online] Available here: https://news.artnet.com/market/dr-doom-warns-of-art-world-money-laundering-in-davos-232958
Chipolina, S. (2021). Art Has a Money Laundering Problem. NFTs Could Make It Worse. Decrypt. [online] Available here: https://decrypt.co/70190/art-has-a-money-laundering-problem-nfts-could-make-it-worse
Egan, M. (2020). The art world has a money laundering problem. CNN. [online] Available here: https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/29/business/art-money-laundering-sanctions-senate/index.html
Ferrar, A. Prince of Foxes. Independently published. Fiction. 2015. [Note: Full disclosure. This book is dedicated to me.]
Hardy, P. (2019). Art and Money Laundering. Ballard Spahr LLP. [online] Available here: https://www.moneylaunderingnews.com/2019/03/art-and-money-laundering/
IntegrityRisk. (2021). Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs) and Money Laundering: Lessons for Compliance Professionals. IntegrityRisk. [online] Available here: https://www.integrityriskintl.com/news-insights/nft-money-laundering-lessons
Levine, L. (2020). Was Modern Art Really a CIA Psy-Op? The number of MoMA-CIA crossovers is highly suspicious, to say the least. JSTOR Daily. [online] Available here: https://daily.jstor.org/was-modern-art-really-a-cia-psy-op/
McCall, I. (2021). How to Launder Money With NFTs. Medium. [online] Available here: https://medium.com/yardcouch-com/how-to-launder-money-with-nfts-56f1789e5591
Newberry, M. Evolution Through Art. Independently published. Nonfiction. 2021.
O’Brien, T. (2020). Money Laundering in the Art World: The Modern Day Heist. AML RightSource. [online] Available here: https://www.amlrightsource.com/news/money-laundering-in-the-art-world-the-modern-day-heist
Odedra, D. (2020). Art: In the Frame for Money Laundering. KYC360 News at RiskScreen. [online] Available here: https://kyc360.riskscreen.com/news/art-in-the-frame-for-money-laundering/
Ogundare, I. (2021). Amidst growing interest, crypto trader says NFTs are facilitating money laundering and tax evasion. Crypto News Flash. [online] Available here: https://www.crypto-news-flash.com/amidst-growing-interest-crypto-trader-says-nfts-are-facilitating-money-laundering-and-tax-evasion/
Paxton, R. (2021). Are NFTs a Money Laundering Gold Mine?Medium. [online] Available here: https://medium.com/@alacergroup/are-nfts-a-money-laundering-gold-mine-ea292a60c0ab
Pogacar, C. (2020). How Money Laundering Works In The Art World. Art and Object. [online] Available here: https://www.artandobject.com/news/how-money-laundering-works-art-world
Reguly, E. (2015). The link between art and money laundering. The Globe and Mail. [online] Available here: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/international-business/european-business/economists-urge-tighter-regulations-to-curb-money-laundering-in-art-market/article26217852/
Saunders, F. (2013). Modern art was CIA ‘weapon.’ Independent. [online] Available here: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/modern-art-was-cia-weapon-1578808.html
Stretz, E. (2021). NFTs and Money Laundering – Are Fraudsters Becoming Artists? FICO. [online] Available here: https://www.fico.com/blogs/nfts-and-money-laundering-are-fraudsters-becoming-artists
Valentin, M. (2017). CIA Money Laundering During the Cold War to Finance Modern Art. International Association for Political Science Students. [online] Available here: https://www.iapss.org/2017/11/02/cia-money-laundering-during-the-cold-war-to-finance-modern-art/
Yan, S. (2014). Chinese snap up fine art for use in laundering schemes. CNN Business. [online] Available here: https://money.cnn.com/2014/02/20/news/economy/china-art-laundering/
Young, M. (2021). Are NFTs being used for money laundering? Yes, they are, claims Mr. Whale. Cointelegraph. [online] Available here: https://cointelegraph.com/news/are-nfts-being-used-for-money-laundering-yes-they-are-claims-mr-whale
Any typos or formating problems rest with me (Michael Newberry).