Investing in art, especially the great works of famous masters, has always been something for the rich of this world; for large companies or people with high purchasing power. Until now. binche carnival, the colorful painting by Belgian artist James Ensor, which is based on an old masquerade 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 Rubey co-founder Marcell de Vries. The same rules apply to Rubey tokens as to common stock. In addition, they must comply with financial legislation and, until the painting is sold after ten years, they retain their value at a relatively low price. Rather, NFTs are traded in an unregulated erratic market.
Also read: ‘Buying an NFT, how does that really work?†
Ruby bought Binche Carnival with the help of fifteen investors for €1.2 million from a private collector and opened a quarter of that for sale via tokens. In one week, a piece worth more than 300,000 euros was sold. De Vries: “With the current low interest rate on savings, people are looking for other ways to invest. You can also see that in the popularity of cryptocurrencies.” If the value of the painting increases, all buyers share in the profit. Owners can always sell shares and are kept informed of news about the painting, for example, if lend it to a museum or if research is going to be done on it.
According to de Vries and his partners, owners of marketing and consulting firms, it’s 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 the arts. “We also want art that is now in basements or on the walls of collectors’ homes to return to museums for longer periods of time.”
Last month Rubey gave Binche Carnival loaned for ten years to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (KMSKA), which will reopen at the end of September after years of renovation. The museum has forty Ensor paintings, but one work from the Ostend master’s later period was still missing. “Thanks to the Rubey Platform, we have been able to fill a void,” says Carmen Willems, director of KMSKA.
She is happy to have the painting available for ten years. “That’s enough to do scientific research on the painting. We are going to understand the creative process behind this work and we can do everything with it in our separate Ensor wing. Think long 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 will happen to the painting, says De Vries. “It can be tokenized again, but maybe someone will come along and buy it for an offer we can’t refuse.”
Physical art has already been ‘tokenized’ without regulation around the world. Earlier this week, the Leopold Museum in Austria released a newly discovered painting by artist Egon Schiele in NFTs for €100,000, €15,000 and €499. With the expected income, the museum wants to compensate for a budget deficit of 5 million euros.
When Marina Picasso wanted to digitally cut a never-before-seen ceramic work of her famous grandfather into digital pieces in February, the rest of the family stopped her at the last minute. Only physical works by Pablo Picasso will be sold, she said in a statement.
Criticism from the art world.
When Rubey’s new system leaked out into the art world, not everyone reacted enthusiastically. It would encourage speculation. According to André Gordts, an art historian in Brussels, the system can result in a rapid rise in value, but also a collapse in value. Willems: „We have to be honest. The probability that the value will not increase is the same. Even with established names, that doesn’t have to happen.”
American journalist Katya Kazakina, who works for Bloomberg, among others, said on the podcast The art angle they fear that art under the influence of the tokens will end up in the hands of people who “don’t get it”.
But Benny Madalijns, a professor of art history at the Free University of Brussels, calls the Art Security Tokens an “intriguing fact” that could provide a “new vision” of the arts. “You have had a feminist vision of art, a Marxist vision. This is something new. Investing in art was always something for him some happy† If this changes that, why not? Apparently the time is right.”
According to the Brussels gallery owner Gerda Vander Kerken, one of the private investors in Binche Carnival, the art world is becoming “a little less exclusive” with the new initiative. She thinks it’s good that people with a small budget can also participate. “Art is booming in Belgium, I can see it in the young people who want to buy jobs from us. It’s in our DNA.”
Marcell de Vries van Rubey hopes to make a second and a third painting available to the public soon. More expensive works. The director of the museum, Willems, who sees in the ASTs a new way to expand the collection, dreams of bringing a Rubens to Antwerp. Perhaps with the help of “this new community”.