Two men's hands stick out of a white wall and hold crumpled dollar bills. Around the wrists hang a fat gold watch - and solid handcuffs. The Swiss artist Fredy Hadorn created this deceptively real-looking plastic work in 2009, reminiscent of the investment scammer Bernie Madoff, and it is a very clear symbol that much of the world of art is still just about money and greed and investment fraud turns. For St. Nicholas Day in 2018, the Berlin gallery owner Michael S. posted this artwork on Instagram: "We wish many gifts for everyone" was among them.
Sometimes reality surpasses even the biggest clichés in art. Last week, of all people, the gallerist who had sent Nicolas Greetings to the world with his handcuffed hands was arrested in Charlottenburg by the Berlin State Criminal Police Office. The magistrate issued a warrant. The 67-year-old does not have to go to jail, but only until further notice to report regularly to the police, the investigation is still ongoing. It is about serious fraud in the sale of works of art; Several people are said to be affected, the damage amounts to several million euros. The gallery owner is also in urgent suspicion, the police have falsified documents. According to information from the ZEIT and Deutschlandfunk, a fake painting by Gerhard Richter appeared on a customer's premises.
For the suspect, the presumption of innocence applies, but the story itself is symptomatic of the current art market. Small and medium-sized galleries, such as auction houses, are under enormous pressure, many of them have to close down. Only a few, globally important companies can compete with the sale of those works that come from the few artists internationally regarded as profitable investment. As in the distribution of global wealth, there is also an enormous concentration in this field: the top ten percent of gallery owners, auctioneers and artists almost divide up the entire business.
The Berlin gallery owner is a well-known and quite baroque figure on this global art market. He has - or maintained - branches in South Korea and China, participated in art fairs in Dubai and Miami. He liked to show himself in public, even with politicians like Gerhard Schröder; Bunte and BZ regularly reported on his exhibitions. The gallerist prided himself on his website and in interviews to exhibit the great contemporary artists of the country: Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz, Sigmar Polke, AR Penck. In addition, there were works by Andy Warhol and a Porsche in which the New York pop art artist is said to have once sat. Many young artists have supported S. early and made known, such as the painter Norbert Bisky, but in 2007 he was looking for a new gallery.
Michael S., as artists, gallerists and collectors who dealt with him say, is a charming, shrewd man. A physically powerful golfer who likes to put photos of slaughter plates online. He has helped many a artist to a career in the art business and the rich to a nice hobby.
But art collecting is no longer just a hobby, it serves more than ever before the investment, profit maximization, the short-term resale, the so-called flipping. "Oh, passion is over," said the gallerist in an interview with the Tagesspiegel in 2017: "One is very keen on the performance of the price development in the eye, even if one does not admit it.You can also say much more openly today: I earn with art money - that was totally frowned upon ten, fifteen years ago. " A picture of Gerhard Richter, he said, was a "stock on the wall". Therefore, he probably also organized purchases of works of art, one hears, in which he, like other colleagues, only shares held, indie single works and forgave loans against pictures.