What You Need to Know About Art’s Role in the Panama Papers Thus Far

Here's a digest of the art world's involvement.

Pablo Picasso, Les Femme d’Algers (Version “O”), 1955. Courtesy Christie's.
Pablo Picasso, Les Femme d’Algers (Version “O”), 1955. Photo: Courtesy Christie's.

The art world is reeling in the wake of numerous revelations from the so-called Panama Papers, which contain some 11 million records from Panama City-based law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Related: Explosive ‘Panama Papers’ Highlight Art’s Role in Lives of Tax-Dodging Superrich

Here’s what you need to know about the developments over the last week, which expose the secretive business dealings of high-profile art collectors and dealers.

Amedeo Modigliani, Seated Man with a Cane (1918).

Amedeo Modigliani, Seated Man with a Cane (1918).

1. The massive art-dealing Nahmad clan are, according to leaked documents, the owners of an Amedeo Modigliani painting that’s at issue in a Nazi-era restitution case and that they claimed was owned by the International Art Center (IAC). In fact, IAC is owned by the Nahmads, and Swiss prosecutors have raided a Geneva storage facility in search of the 1918 painting, Seated Man with a Cane.

2. Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev reportedly used a company called Xitrans Finance to shield holdings like artworks by Pablo Picasso, Modigliani, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Mark Rothko from claims by his wife during divorce proceedings. However, Rybolovlev denies these claims, stating: “The use of Xitrans Finance as a holding entity to constitute a remarkable art collection has been publicly disclosed in numerous publications worldwide and is perfectly legitimate.”

Joe Lewis, billionaire art collector, played a major role in the 1997 Ganz collection sale, the Panama Papers have revealed. Photo: courtesy Tavistock Group.

Joseph Lewis, billionaire art collector, played a major role in the 1997 Ganz collection sale, the Panama Papers have revealed.
Photo: courtesy Tavistock Group.

3. A legendary 1997 auction at Christie’s New York, in which the holdings of collectors Victor and Sally Ganz fetched record-breaking sums, was orchestrated behind the scenes by billionaire currency trader Joseph Lewis, who had purchased the entire collection from a Christie’s subsidiary, London’s Spink & Son, at much lower prices. Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Algers (Version “O”), from that sale, went on to sell for an eye-popping $179.4 million at—where else?—Christie’s New York in May 2015.

4. China’s Chen Dongsheng, who is among the company’s wealthiest and is married to the granddaughter of Mao Zedong, founded China Guardian, the world’s fourth largest auction house. In 2011, Mossack Fonseca set up a company called Keen Best International Limited on behalf of Dongsheng, which was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands. Little is known about the company’s activities even after the leak.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: Leyla Aliyeva spends a day out-and-about in London on February 12, 2011 in London, England. Leyla Aliyeva is the Daughter of the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. She is working to promote her culture in the UK ahead of Azerbaijan's 20th anniversary of independence in May. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images for LA)

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 12: Leyla Aliyeva spends a day out-and-about in London on February 12, 2011 in London, England. Leyla Aliyeva is the Daughter of the President of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev. She is working to promote her culture in the UK ahead of Azerbaijan’s 20th anniversary of independence in May.
Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images for LA.

5. Azerbaijani art collector and patron Leyla Aliyev, the daughter of President Ilham Aliyev, organized the Azerbaijani pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale, along with other high-profile shows. She’s also an art collector who counts canvases by George Condo among her holdings. Mossack Fonseca set up a British Virgin Islands holding company to manage her formidable British real estate portfolio.

Basil and Elise Goulandris.Image: Courtesy of the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation.com

Basil and Elise Goulandris.
Image: Courtesy of the Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation’s website.

6. Greek shipping magnate Basil Goulandris and his wife Elise sold their art collection, including more than 80 works by Cézanne, Monet, Matisse, Picasso, Pollock, and Renoir, in 1985 to a Panamanian company for $31.7 million. When the works came to auction years later, their true provenance was hidden with the names of holding companies.

7. Mossack Fonseca set up a company called Kirkswood Ltd., consisting of five British Virgin Islands-based holding companies, for art publisher Louise Blouin. Emigrant Bank agreed to lend $4.7 to Kirkswood Ltd., and sued the company for more than $2.8 million unpaid in 2015. Kirkswood had offered artworks as collateral, but then, according to leaked documents, sold those same artworks at Christie’s New York, totaling nearly $2 million, which the house turned over to Emigrant. Blouin tells the Toronto Star that the matter has been settled.


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