There’s been much hullabaloo in the press recently about the use of art for money laundering but government officials have been aware for some time of the value of art when it passes through customs or is reported on tax returns. Far more prevalent is the use of auctions and art sales where works of dubious value are bought for magnificent sums. Here’s an example from South Africa:
Stephan Welz, MD at Strauss & Co, highlighted as worrying, […] the purchase of art at an ANC fundraising event in January.
At the event, Mining Minister Susan Shabangu bought a portrait of Nelson Mandela on behalf of an unnamed “mining magnate” for R3.7m — reported to be the highest price ever paid for a work by a living South African artist.
The previously little-known artist, Sifiso Ngcobo, had sold a portrait of Jacob Zuma for R1m at an ANC gala dinner a month beforehand. He was then commissioned to paint another Mandela portrait, by one of the losing bidders at the auction, for R3.5m. This catapulted Mr Ngcobo into the rarefied air of being the only living South African artist besides Kentridge selling for such prices.
Mr Ngcobo was quoted in City Press as saying KwaZulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize had seen the Mandela portrait and proclaimed it “exquisite”. Art critics disagreed vehemently.