Investing in art, especially in the great works of famous masters, has always been something for the wealthy of this world; for large companies or individuals with high net worth. Until now. Binche Carnival, the colorful painting by the Belgian artist James Ensor, based on an ancient, masked carnival scene in Wallonia, is the first work in Europe to be offered for sale to the general public.
The Belgian-Dutch Rubey Platform developed the method. For 150 euros, you can become a co-owner of a painting through the digital purchase of an ‘Art Security Token’, not to be confused with the more well-known non-fungible tokens (NFT) or cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin. The difference between the two is investor protection, says co-founder of Rubey Marcell de Vries. The same rules apply to Rubey tokens as to ordinary shares. In addition, they must comply with economic laws, and until the painting is sold after ten years, they retain their value relatively cheaply. In contrast, NFTs are traded in an unregulated irregular market.
Also read: ‘If you buy an NFT, how does it really work?†
Rubey bought Binche Carnival with the help of fifteen investors for 1.2 million euros from a private collector and opened a quarter of it for sale via tokens. Within a week, a part worth more than 300,000 euros was sold. De Vries: “With the current low interest rates on savings, people are looking for other ways to invest. You can also see it in the popularity of cryptocurrencies. “If the value of the painting increases, all buyers share in the profits. Owners can always sell shares and be kept informed of news about the painting; for example, if it is lent to a museum, or if research is to be done on it.
According to de Vries and his partners, owners of marketing and consulting companies, it is not about making a profit. They pursue a “social goal”. De Vries: “We want to democratize investment in art”. In this way, Jan Modaal should also be able to enter the world of art. “We also want the art that is now in basements or on the walls of collectors’ homes to return to museums for extended periods.”
Last month, Rubey gave Binche Carnival lent for ten years to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (KMSKA), which reopens its doors in late September after several years of renovation. The museum has forty paintings by Ensor, but a work from the later period by the master from Ostend is still missing. “Thanks to the Rubey platform, we have been able to fill a gap,” says Carmen Willems, Director of KMSKA.
She is happy to have the painting available for ten years. “It is enough to carry out scientific research in painting. We get to understand the creative process behind this work and we can do everything with it in our separate Ensor wing. Think of comprehensive signs with texts, audio tours. Educationally, it is also a beautiful work; the carnival theme will appeal to children. ”
After ten years, Rubey will see what happens to the painting, says De Vries. “It can be redrawn, but maybe a party will come and buy it for an offer we can not refuse.”
Physical art has already been ‘tokenized’ unregulated worldwide. Earlier this week, Austria’s Leopold Museum published a newly discovered painting by artist Egon Schiele in NFTs of 100,000, 15,000 and 499 euros. With the intended profit, the museum wants to make up a budget deficit of 5 million euros.
When Marina Picasso in February wanted to chop an unprecedented ceramic work by her famous grandfather digitally into digital pieces, the rest of the family put a stop to it at the last minute. Only physical work by Pablo Picasso will be sold, it said in a statement.
Criticism from the art world
As Rubey’s new system seeped into the art world, not everyone responded enthusiastically. That would encourage speculation. According to André Gordts, art historian in Brussels, the system can result in a rapid increase in value, but also in a collapse in value. Willems: “We have to be honest. The probability that the value does not increase is the same. Even with established names, it does not have to happen.”
This was said by the American journalist Katya Kazakina, who among other things works for Bloomberg, in the podcast The art angle fear that art under the influence of tokens will end up in the hands of people who “do not understand it.”
But Benny Madalijns, professor of art history at the Free University of Brussels, calls Art Security Tokens an “intriguing fact” that could provide a “new vision” of art. “You have had a feminist view of art, a Marxist view. This is something new. Investing in art was always something for get happy† If this changes, why not? The time is obviously right. ”
According to Brussels gallery owner Gerda Vander Kerken, one of the private investors in Binche Carnival, the art world becomes “a little less exclusive” with the new initiative. She thinks it is good that people with a small budget can also participate. “Art flourishes in Belgium, I can see it in the young people who want to buy work for us. It’s in our DNA. ”
Marcell de Vries van Rubey hopes to make a second and third painting available to the public soon. More expensive works. Museum director Willems, who sees a new way to expand the collection in the ASTs, dreams of bringing a Rubens to Antwerp. Maybe with the help of “this new community”.