Jan Robert Leegte and Rafaël Rozendaal in Tableau Magazine

Jan Robert Leegte and Rafaël Rozendaal in Tableau Magazine

Jan Robert Leegte and Rafaël Rozendaal in Tableau Magazine

Art market: shared art ownership

Buying art can be done in various ways. Besides buying a work for your own collection, these days it is also possible to buy a share in an artwork far beyond your financial reach.

Many people walking around an art fair or exhibition, measure their interest in a work by whether they would like to have it in their home. Understandable: footing is always useful. especially in an industry where supply and diversity is enormous and transparency is low. Although such a consideration should also be about some intrinsic perception aspects. Such as: how does the work relate to the zeitgeist in which it was made? And is the story the artist wants to tell sufficiently interesting and challenging?

But apart from that, coming back to that first question: it is understandable that a work of art first evokes an emotion, and thus perhaps the desire to own a work. Only: suppose you would really like to own a work by, say, Mondrian, or a Picasso, it becomes difficult. At least, it seems that way. Nowadays, there are several ways to still own a work that would otherwise be unattainable through shared ownership.

Sharing art
The reason for joining a shared ownership model can be diverse. For instance, private art lovers have traditionally loaned works from their collections to museums. This usually involves art with a high historical value in order to allow a wider audience to enjoy them. In effect, the property is then shared - whether for a longer period or not - with the museum, and thus with the public. Financial reasons can also be a motive: insurance for museum pieces can be high, and having something so valuable hanging in your home can also be a burden.

As internet and crypto artist Raphael Rozendaal (1980) puts it, "Ownership is a prison full of obligations. Rozendaal introduced a radically new method of sharing his art. To make the relationships between artists, institutions and enthusiasts more transparent and democratic, from early 2000 Rozendaal uses websites as a canvas for his artworks, so that they can be viewed by anyone with access to the internet. Rozendaal sells the domain name of the website the work is on, with the additional condition that the work must always remain publicly accessible.To this end, the artist created the Art Website Sales Contract, which is also public and can be used by anyone.

After purchase, the owner's name is put in the source code and in the page title. But the website remains for all to see. An example is ifnoyes.com, a work from 2013 and now changed hands, but still available for all internet users anywhere in the world to visit. In this way, Rozendaal has now attracted more than 50 million viewers to his works - more than the total number of visitors the Stedelijk Museum has brought in in its entire existence.

Yet in each case, there is only one owner. So the buyer shares the viewing pleasure, but meanwhile embraces the artist's creative process and the specific work more than anyone else.This is a new way of enjoying art, and in fact a modernised version of loaning a work.

Meanwhile, museums are also embracing this form of shared ownership. In 2021, for instance, the Van Gogh Museum showed an exhibition of work by internet artist Jan Robert Leegte (1973), on display on five screens. Leegte has been connecting art historical movements with the internet since 1997. For this exhibition, the artist used an algorithm and five search terms (sunrise, landscape, moon, forest and mountains) to create a series of changing images that goes on forever. The series, titled Compressed Landscapes, refers to the subjects that were important to the Impressionists in the late 19th century. The creation of the work is a continuous process, constantly renewing itself and also unpredictable for the artist.The artwork can still be found on the internet, on the website compressedlandscapes.com. Also, all five parts can be found via the van Gogh Museum's site. So who then owns this work? The artist, the museum or the viewers?

Shared ownership of an artwork has developed rapidly over the past decade. One of the main reasons is to make money from it. To use art as an investment, by the way, is nothing new - after all, anything that represents a value is attractive to trade or invest in. However, the question is whether that pays off with art.

The first art investment fund was founded in Paris in 1904 by art collector and businessman André Level. Under the name La Peau de l'Ours (after the proverb: thou shalt not sell the skin before the bear is shot), Level and 11 other investors of the fund purchased works by young emerging artists of the time, such as Picasso, Matisse, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Derain and Dufy. The works were kept for ten years and finally auctioned in March 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War. This auction was a great success. Remarkably, the artists also shared in the profits: on top of the purchase price, they received 20% of the profit.

For instance, the now globally famous painting La Famille de Saltimbanques, from Picasso's Blue Period, brought 11,500 francs, while nine years earlier it had been bought for only 1,000 francs. This not only got the then young artists more attention; it also proved the usefulness of the French system of droit de suite (resale right), which is now the European rule.

Subsequently, several art funds were set up over the century, but they were rarely successful. There were a variety of reasons for this: art, unlike cash, is not readily tradable; the duration between buying and selling was often too long, so inflation and running costs undermined results; or the wrong works were purchased (e.g. by using advisers representing different interests) or, in some cases, outright fraud was committed by the managers.

The art market was and is not very transparent. This makes it a risky business to invest in art purely for financial gain, without considering its essential, intrinsic value. But at the beginning of the 21st century, there was a revival of alternative investment funds (as an alternative to the financial market). This is the same for art. As websites like ArtPrice and Artnet provided greater transparency, it became much easier to track and trace prices and returns. In the process, the contemporary art market was now embraced by enthusiasts from all over the world.

Read here the original Dutch text by Jeanette ten Kate.


Publication date: 24 Feb '24