an idea to stop illicit artwork traffic
The artistic and cultural heritage cannot be valued per kilo as any other product. Different parameters necessarily come into play in estimating the value of a work of art. It is its existence, even more its possible absence, that increases its value. Its existence is a source, a document, a link with the past. It illustrates it, it passes it on. If the artefact no longer existed, if it had not been adequately protected, we would have an unbridgeable gap in what is the historical discourse, before economic damage. The question: “how much is a work of art worth?” it is difficult to answer.
However, as highlighted in the article by Giuseppe Miceli, an expert in anti-money laundering, entitled “A passport for cultural heritage”, which appeared a few weeks ago in the Journal of Cultural Heritage, the lack of shared rules for the evaluation of works, a the art market, totally unregulated, benefits, with its volatility, with random quotations and subsequent sales at amazing prices, the laundering of illicit proceeds, albeit with totally legal sales.
The analysis conducted by the FBI on the illicit trafficking of works of art estimates it to be between 9-12% of the entire turnover in the sector. Analysis also confirmed by national bodies such as the Italian Anti-Mafia Investigation Directorate or the Italian Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission.
To counter this phenomenon, of which Italy is one of the major victims, Giuseppe Miceli has decided to develop a project for the traceability of Cultural Heritage, or the creation of a Register of the Owners of works of art, like what happens for other product categories. In this way it would be possible to monitor every change of ownership of any artefact, as is done now for cars, for example. This register would be used as a deterrent to the use of sums of dubious origin because the purchase value would also be recorded.
The works would be provided with a mark “elaborated and applied by the State Polygraphic Institute”, the data entered on the mark would refer to a database in which all the information on the artefact will be present. Of course, the counterfeiting of this or the tampering would be the subject of criminal proceedings.
Artefacts that do not bear the mark would be deemed to be inauthentic.
But the question we ask ourselves is:
- How would authenticity be verified, and would this also include determining the certainty of the autograph when affixing the first stamp?
- How would this instrument take into account the variations in value due to new attributions, to scientific discoveries?
- Would diagnostic data be accessible, which certainly could be a support for the conservation of the work itself and also proof of authenticity?
We found the proposal really interesting but its feasibility requires resources and skills. An important investment.
In any case, regulation of a market where it is currently possible to exchange many millions without any rules is increasingly necessary.