Artists Form Shell Company to Visit and Photograph Tax Havens (exhibit):
Artists Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti traveled to 13 tax havens in an attempt to visualize the fundamentally invisible networks corporations and the ultra-rich employ to hide their wealth.
Installation view of Les Paradis, Rapport annuel at Université Paris II Panthéon-Assas (photo by Joseph Nechvatal for Hyperallergic)
How best to visually portray confidential globalized money transactions when they are an obscured and dematerialized phenomenon? Responding to this question through the use of ineffectual capture technology is Italian artists Paolo Woods and Gabriele Galimberti’s Les Paradis, rapport annuel (or “The Heavens, Annual Report”), a superficial photographic culture jam developed undercover in tony offshore tax havens. This whistle-blow show, which premiered in 2015 at the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival, is now at Centre Assas in the law school Université Paris II Panthéon-Assas, where it has been augmented with two roundtables on the subject of tax evasion and supplimental materials.
Through the diversity of photo locations featured in their project, Woods and Galimberti make the judicious point that tax havens are not tropical eccentricities, but rather structural instruments of the globalized economy. Enormous amounts of money are continuously placed offshore by very wealthy individuals and by companies that use these very low-tax jurisdictions (often legally) in order to reduce their taxes, thus retaining resources that countries could devote to education, health, public art, and the safety of their citizens.
My own reading of the 1%’s world of tax evasion in connection to the secondary art market suggests that hush-hush havens and brassy, big-name art objects work together to dominate the underprivileged in a melding scheme that blends money-as-data with art-as-data. This data ploy is now a salient feature of our time in that much blue chip modern and contemporary art functions as market-transcendent coinage, turning art into a vessel for storing wealth. This became glaringly obvious on September 15, 2008, the day of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, when Damien Hirst sold over £60 million worth of his art in an auction at Sotheby’s that would total £111 million over two days. In conjunction with such demonstrated secondary art market stability, leaked tax haven data — like the Panama Papers, Swiss Leaks, and Lux Leaks— have become unavoidable themes of political and cultural deliberation. The relevance for art could not be more serious, as more and more big-name art functions perversely as a wealth investment hedge while the rest of artistic production goes largely ignored by collectors bidding up the secondary auction market.
(Hat Tip: Jeremy Bearer-Friend.)