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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

DOES ART NEED BANKERS?


Does art need bankers?
As Italy’s new technocratic government struggled to its feet, 100 financiers, entrepreneurs, collectors, curators, dealers and academics gathered in Florence for a private conference on the future of art and finance

By Robert Hewison. Web only
Published online: 24 November 2011

Not since Damien Hirst cleared £111m from his solo Sotheby’s sale as Lehman Brothers went down in September 2008, setting off the financial crisis that still afflicts us, has there been a more powerful conjunction of art, money and events. Last month, as Italy’s new technocratic government struggled to its feet, 100 financiers, entrepreneurs, collectors, curators, dealers and academics gathered at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence for a private conference on the future of art and finance. The Governor of the Bank England, Mervyn King, senior figures from the European Central Bank, the US Federal Reserve, the Swiss National Bank, the CEO of Sotheby’s, Bill Ruprecht, former Guggenheim Director Thomas Krens, now running his own Global Cultural Asset Management, were just some of the influential people prepared to spend 24 hours sharing their financial wisdom and their concern for art.

The cue was, appropriately, a striking new show at the Palazzo Strozzi, “Money and Beauty. Bankers, Botticelli, and the Bonfire of the Vanities”. Its blunt opening statement, “No Bankers. No Renaissance”, was a suitable subtext to the forum organised by the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation’s dynamic director, James Bradburne. The show elegantly told the story of the rise of Florence as a financial centre and its parallel flowering as a centre for art. There was no doubt here about the meeting of art and money, but the glowering portrait of the doomed priest, Savonarola, was a reminder that the Medici faced their crises too. Florence invented the letter of exchange, a complex financial derivative and a way to get round the Church’s view that making money out of money was usury—a thought powerfully resonant today.

Since this was a closed conference under Chatham House rules, I can’t report who said what, but just as Florence is no longer the cultural and financial powerhouse it was in the 15th century, there was concern that today financial and cultural power is on the move from the West to the East. China has become the largest market for art, both indigenous and Western, but the Gulf, India, Singapore, and Taiwan also have cash and cultural power. There was much debate as to whether financial centres necessarily became cultural centres, but the consensus was, in the words of one delegate who certainly knew what he was talking about, “art tracks money and power”. Abu Dhabi’s plans may be on hold, but there is no doubt about the rise of China.


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