Writing of the legal struggle of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev against Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier (for overcharging him for some very expensive paintings), Leonid Bershidsky ('Today's Art Market Hides Masterpieces' Bloomberg View May 1, 2015) makes a number of points about the current art market which is somewhat at odds with the way it is portrayed by dealers and collectors of "ancient art" (portable antiquities). He suggests the need for external regulation.
The essay touches on the issue of freeports ("glorified warehouses where art can be stored tax-free") in which many works are stashed away where nobody sees them.
The growth of freeports in recent years reflects a change in collectors' motivations. These days, according to a Deloitte survey, 76 percent of purchasers buy art "with an investment view" rather than to satisfy a passion, and that’s up from 53 percent in 2012. An investment-oriented market needs infrastructure, and the more developed that infrastructure is, the higher art prices climb. As a result, the legitimate art market increasingly resembles the underground one for stolen paintings.and looted antiquities stashed away for years until they can "surface" on the market at the "right price" for the seller.
"Criminals have been turning looted masterpieces into a type of underworld currency, trading the stolen canvases for guns or drugs," Ulrich Boser wrote in his 2010 book "The Gardner Heist." "After Titian's 'Rest on the Flight into Egypt' was swiped from an English country estate, the painting passed through the hands of five different gangsters, each time used as a bargaining credit." No one ever sees these paintings, either, except for the gangsters.If the market itself is not going to push out antiquities gangsters by changing their traditional no-questions-asked trading practices, they should be dealt with by regulation.