"San Giorgio Maggiore" (1885), a landscape in gauche on paper by Francesco Zanin, is only one of hundreds of artworks in the "commodity" collection of speculator Galen Collison. Artenol photo

The new currency

A trader discusses art as commodity

By Rowling Dord


ITS NAME SOUNDS innocent enough: Art Assets Management, S.A. An organization that most likely assists individuals and organizations in cataloging, preserving and safeguarding works of art owned by those individuals or organizations. Right?


What AAM does, as far as can be determined from public records, is entirely unknown. It apparently has no clients, no offices, no history of services provided. It has no website or contact information. You can’t get them on the phone because there is no phone number for AAM. No one would be there to answer the phone if there were one.

Galen Collison checks his messages. The broker is a trustee of the mysterious holding company, Arts Assets Management, S.A.
Artenol photo
t is even difficult to ascertain when AAM came into existence. I’m pretty certain it’s been around for more than a decade, because an “Art Assets Management, S.A.” is listed among those corporations registered in Panama that are delinquent in paying the registry’s required annual listings charge of $400. AAM hasn’t made a payment in 10 years. It may have never paid anything to the registry beyond the initial registration fee.

In March, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and several prominent newspapers broke a story that sent financial shivers through the enclaves of the world’s rich and powerful. You doubtless read about it. An anonymous source dumped a huge cache of files containing millions of names and account numbers on the ICIJ. Known now as the “Panama Papers,” those names and numbers comprise a significant portion of the clients served by a Panamanian legal firm named Mossack Fonseca & Co. Mossack Fonseca specializes in creating shell corporations for individuals and organizations that wish to shield wealth from public and governmental view. What the law firm does, under Panamanian law, appears to be perfectly legal. What its clients do with its legal handiwork often is not. At the very least, it is unethical.

While the ICIJ continues to sort through the Mossack Fonseca database, most of the prominent names among those listed have been revealed and their bearers have undergone rigorous public scrutiny. Those exposed include political leaders and their cronies − Iceland’s Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, Britain’s David Cameron, numerous friends and associates of Russia’s Vladimir Putin − as well as business and industry leaders − Bank Leumi, Anheuser-Busch InBev − and highly-regarded artists and champions of progressive causes − author Mario Vargas Llosa, producer David Geffen, and directors Stanley Kubrick and Pedro Almodóvar. There was plenty of embarrassment to go around, and there may even be legal consequences for an unlucky few. But the vast majority of names on the ICIJ’s list we will probably never know. Their celebrity falls beneath social media’s radar, today’s measure of newsworthiness.

Art Assets Management clearly belongs in this latter category. I certainly would never had heard of the organization if an artist friend had not alerted me to its existence − in the Panamanian registry, at least, if not in corporeality. But it was just a name on a list with no other information. Why would that, I asked my friend, be of interest to me? “Because,” he replied, lowering his voice and leaning in, “I know one of the company’s officers. And he’s willing to talk.”

Read the rest of this story in the Summer 2016 issue of Artenol. Order yours today

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