It’s not that I don’t trust you…

You sure?

Last week, German police arrested a forger in connection with the sale of fake paintings to prestigious collections. Forgery is of course a serious problem (or major challenge as we say here) in the art world.

There’s a story that two art dealers came to see Picasso because one of them wanted to sell a picture he claimed was by the great man, while his colleague disagreed. Picasso took one look at the canvas and said it was obviously a fake. The seller was flabbergasted. “But I saw you painting it!”, he protested. Picasso didn’t deny it, but, he explained, “I often paint fakes”.

I’ll leave to you to decide what Picasso meant, but one thing we can agree on is that his attitude wasn’t very helpful to the art market. When artists were considered as just one among many tradespeople producing life’s little luxuries for the rich (pots, pies, poems, pictures, whatever their Wonderfulnesses desired), it didn’t occur to anybody that anything other than how nice it was mattered. That changed with the Renaissance and the notion of individual genius and inspiration.

In Questions from a worker who reads, Brecht laughs at this “great men” approach, asking if Caesar conquered Gaul without so much as somebody to make his dinner for him. Marcel Duchamp did likewise, mockingly claiming that anything an artist put in an exhibition was art, including a bottle rack he’d bought in a department store and then forgotten about (unfortunately, his sister threw it out).

Authenticity and authorship wouldn’t matter so much if vast sums of money weren’t involved. Unlike the art patrons of previous times who liked to show off their acquisitions, many of today’s owners keep their purchases in safes, simply as a highly mobile investment that can be quickly converted to cash.

And art isn’t the only market for recycling money. Charitable status can be abused too, but what will most shock the ordinary, decent citizen is that off the level playing field, various aspects of football attract criminals, as the latest FIFA scandal shows.

In Money Laundering through the Football Sector,  the Financial Action Task Force examined how transfer fees, image rights, club ownership and betting can all be used for illegal purposes such as tax avoidance. The football sector is also used as a vehicle for other criminal activities including trafficking in human beings, corruption, and drugs trafficking.

Restoring trust was discussed at last year’s OECD Forum. That session talked mainly about business ethics, but trust more broadly, including trust in government, will be one of the themes of the coming year as the OECD celebrates its 50th anniversary. Other major topics will include restoring public finances, jobs and skills, and new sources of growth.

Useful links

Financial Action Task Force

OECD work on taxation

OECD work on corporate governance

OECD work on public governance

Patrick Love

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