Last month, a crowd gathered at Christie’s Rockefeller Center headquarters to bid on the collection of late tech billionaire Paul G. Allen, a masterpiece-packed event that would end up bringing in a record $1.5 billion. Among the art world’s heavy hitters was a relatively new entrant: a five-year-old art-finance start-up called Masterworks, two executives from which were vying for an abstract painting by Gerhard Richter.
Over the past few years, Masterworks, founded in 2017 by serial tech entrepreneur Scott Lynn, has been amassing artworks to feed its unique business model. In short, selling fractional shares of securitized artworks by blue-chip artists to everyman investors, effectively treating artworks like a publicly traded company.
In 2021, Masterworks raised $110 million in Series A funding, led by Left Lane Capital and including funding from Tru Arrow Partners, cofounded by MoMA board member Glenn Fuhrman. The backing valued the company at more than $1 billion. By this past February, the company had bought more than 100 paintings to the tune of $450 million (according to internal documents, that figure rose to $475 million by May).
Behind the scenes, however, things have been rocky, according to interviews with more than 20 current and former employees, almost all of whom asked for anonymity due to fear of legal retaliation. Throughout 2022, and at times before, the company has weathered conflicting business strategies, rifts between management and key teams and non-existent human resources practices, sources said.
Underpinning those conflicts were employee incentive structures and selling tactics that some former staffers viewed as ethically questionable and that experts say may have put them and the company at risk of violating Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) rules and regulations.
This artwork is going to be on the moon 'for eternity' – CNN
Jafri’s work, “We Rise Together — By the Light of the Moon,” is scheduled to fly into space on a United Launch Alliance rocket powered by engines developed by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The launch is scheduled to take place at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the first week of March.
The work is an engraving depicting a male and a female figure surrounded by 88 hearts.
“The original artwork was this beautiful heart motif. Two figures entwined, reconnecting and around them is blossoming flora, fauna,” explained Jafri. He says he wanted to capture “the unification of humanity through love and empathy” in his design.
“We Rise Together — By the Light of the Moon,” by Sacha Jafri. Credit: Selenian
For his canvas, a gold alloy was developed over two years to withstand the extreme environment on the lunar surface whilst keeping the artwork intact. But the piece isn’t intended only for extraterrestrial art lovers.
“When we land the physical work of art on the moon, a little beep sounds in the control room,” said Jafri. On that signal, 88 NFTs will be released for sale back on Earth.
Jafri plans to donate all proceeds to humanitarian charities. “I’m hoping to raise a huge amount of money for the four main charitable concerns of our world — health, education, sustainability, and equality,” he said.
A lunar lander will place the work in a crater known as Lacus Mortis (the Lake of Death) where it will remain “for eternity.” According to Jafri, the mission will take between five days and two weeks to reach the moon, depending on conditions.
Art on the ISS
In April last year, another Israeli artist, Liat Segal, and Yasmine Meroz, a physicist at Tel Aviv University, created an artwork that can only exist in space.
Making use of the lack of gravity in space, “Impossible Object” is a tiered structure of gold-colored metal tubes released water. On Earth the water would fall to the ground but in space it created floating elements around the sculpture.
It was activated as the ISS orbited at around 400 kilometers above the Earth. Meroz and Segal had predicted that the water might wrap around the structure, forming a liquid shell, but in practice it behaved quite differently, forming floating orbs.
“Impossible Object,” by Liat Segal and Yasmine Meroz. Credit: Eytan Stibbe and Rakia Art Mission (Ramon Foundation)
“We didn’t know what the dynamics of water will be in microgravity — what does a piece of water look like?” said Segal. “We’re used to filling our hands with water, filling vessels. In this case the water isn’t held by any vessel. It’s only held by this skeleton structure.”
As artists get creative in space, Segal anticipates innovation.
“Many technologies were developed as a result of the space race, to accommodate for a new physical reality,” Segal added. “Now art and culture can enter this new physical reality. It will force the creation of things that we cannot expect, that could not happen otherwise.”
Jafri is also enthused about the creative possibilities and believes private space missions will open up new opportunities for artists. “I think people are tapping into people’s obsession with space,” he said. “It’s a new market for the art world to tap into.”
Rich Russians’ Art Buying Is Target of US Crackdown on Trade-Sanction Cheats – BNN Bloomberg
(Bloomberg) — The US crackdown on trade-sanction violators is turning to the art world as authorities track down works bought or sold by ultra-rich Russian tycoons.
Through a series of subpoenas, federal prosecutors in New York are demanding high-end auction houses in the US turn over years of records as they seek to determine if art was smuggled offshore or if proceeds from sales were transferred illegally, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
Among those named in the subpoenas are sanctioned Russian tycoons Andrey Melnichenko, Viktor Vekselberg and Roman Abramovich, along with Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t yet public. The records requested of auction houses include any previous dealings with the men, according to the person, who didn’t disclose all the companies that were served subpoenas.
Of the major auction houses contacted by Bloomberg, Christie’s International Plc said it “cooperates and complies fully with law enforcement as and when we are required to do so.” Phillips Auction House said it has measures in place “to ensure that no individual or institution targeted by sanctions are able to do business directly or indirectly through our salerooms.” Sotheby’s and Bonhams & Butterfields Auctioneers Corp. didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the US has expanded sanctions targeting Russian businessmen and companies with ties to Vladamir Putin. That’s led to seizures of luxury assets, from a yacht in the South Pacific to art work in a French gallery. The US Justice Department also plans to seize a Greenwich Village townhouse linked to Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
Read more: Art Seized at US Homes Part of Crackdown on Wealthy Russians
With its search of auction houses, the department is looking to track down “professional sanctions evaders” — people who help the wealthy avoid restrictions and launder money. This month, prosecutors charged two men, including a former FBI special agent, with aiding Deripaska and violating sanctions.
According to Georges Lederman, an attorney who specializes art crime and asset forfeiture cases, the crackdown has been the result of greater coordination between the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees the sanctions list, and prosecutors trying to stop money laundering.
“In the past if you violated a sanction, you got a big fine and then you had to implement a more sophisticated anti-money laundering program,” Lederman said. “But now, because of Russia sanctions and heightened awareness, there is a greater referral of money laundering prosecutions.”
In recent months, prosecutors in Manhattan have narrowed the focus of their inquiries, asking about specific artworks bought years ago, as well as some real estate, according to the person familiar with the matter. The probe is being led by the US Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York and the federal KleptoCapture task force, which was set up to police Russian sanctions. A spokesman for KleptoCapture declined to comment.
$50 Million Monet
Fertilizer tycoon Melnichenko, with a net worth estimated at $12.7 billion by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, is said to have purchased Monet’s “Le Bassin aux Nympheas” for 40.9 million pounds ($49.6 million) in 2009. Abramovich is Russia’s second-largest steelmaker and previously owned London’s Chelsea Football Club. His ex wife, Daria Zhukova, was a Russian art collector.
KleptoCapture’s lead prosecutor Andrew Adams told the NYC Bar Association in November that his team was focused on taking “assets off the table” before they could be moved to other jurisdictions.
One such alleged facilitator was UK businessman Graham Bonham-Carter, who was indicted in October and accused of trying to transfer artwork owned by Deripaska, who is under US sanctions. Using a shell company, Deripaska purchased 18 pieces of art at a New York auction in 2008, a decade before he was sanctioned, according to an indictment. The art works were kept in a New York storage facility until Bonham-Carter allegedly try to ship them out of the country in 2021.
Bonham-Carter is fighting extradition from the UK to the US to face charges.
In the wake of a 2020 Senate report on sanctions evasion in the art world, major auction houses and private sellers started including as a standard condition in contracts that the buyer or seller not be sanctioned or engaged in criminal activity, said Thomas C. Danziger, a New York-based attorney specializing in art law.
The leading auction houses have implemented voluntary anti-money laundering programs, but that may not be enough to prevent the true owners of art works from shielding themselves themselves behind webs of corporate structures or relatives.
“Putin’s banker is unlikely to walk into a gallery on Madison Avenue and buy a Picasso,” Danziger said.
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
St. John's International Airport Unveils New Art Installation – VOCM
St. John’s International Airport has unveiled a brand new art installation to welcome arriving passengers.
The piece, Art Upon Arrival, includes 24 illustrations on eight structural columns in the arrivals area are adorned with brightly colored, graphic images that harken to all things St John’s such as food, plants, nature and music.
Artist Molly Margaret says after an extended period working on the project it’s fun to see public reaction to the piece.
— Gerri Lynn Mackey (@GerriLynnMackey) January 31, 2023
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