The controversial Panama Papers, in which a cache of leaked documents revealed the true extent of various individuals’ wealth held in offshore safe havens, have raised an extremely ugly part of 20th Century Art History.
It is depressing that the David Nahmad family is once again at the centre of proceedings as it is alleged that it used The International Art Centre SA – a company set up on Panama in 1995 – to avoid being revealed as true owners of a Modigliani – ‘Man With a Cane’ – stolen by the Nazis in the World War. The rightful owner, from whose family it was allegedly taken witnessed the contentious piece emerge at auction in Sothebys in 2008, where it was swiftly withdrawn from sale. “Not us!” Nahmad said, “we never owned this contentious piece stolen by the Nazis. These are not the droids you are looking for”. Concerning the suitably anonymously named IAC SA, one can’t help but think of sock puppets. And hey where do the Wildensteins fit into this jigsaw puzzle?
Similarly, the papers predictably reveal a haul of the most valuable pieces – monetary and culturally – stashed away by similar sock puppets. These guys aren’t like private owners who just make it difficult to have their hoard registered and viewable to the public, they actively deny its existence, and deny it from the entire world. What dicks.
Because the hidden wealth in Panama almost certainly hideously dwarfs visible wealth in the arts, surely the appointment of uber-fundraiser Yana Peel as CEO to the Serpentine Gallery should be good news. Her CV is formidable, though she’s perhaps most famous for chairing Intelligence Squared, a slickly produced debate forum in which big guns in the art world discuss stuff. Yup, I went to one and was pleased at how such debate on arts subject is alive and well (even though tickets were extortionate. But then the event I saw was at the Saatchi, had Sandy Nairne and host of big big cheeses speaking, and I had a student discount at the time. Still…) I’ve been a little less than impressed at recent programming (Michael Craig-Martin, what, again?!, and that stupid Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present knock-off), apart from maybe Hilma af Klimt, an excellent and unsung artist of wonderful painting, and a great Dinos Bros show. So let’s hope programming doesn’t go whole-hog populist. This isn’t a private commercial gallery that needs to flog its wares: it has a responsibility beyond keeping itself self-sufficient. Urgh, listen to me: “do great fundraising but don’t make too much money”. It’s a delicate balance, especially when one doesn’t have BP sponsorship to rely on (ahem) but given the presence of uber curator Hans Obrist as artistic director, hopefully we’ll get something left-field and suitably inspiring.