Picasso, Hirst Sold At Wholesale: Rüdiger Weng's New Brand Of Art Dealing

In Germany, Weng Fine Art makes quick profits by buying 20th century art priced between 5,000 and 150,000 euros and selling it to galleries via auction houses. A new business model that tries to turn culture into commodity.

Damien Hirst is prolific...and other things (16 miles of string)
Damien Hirst is prolific...and other things (16 miles of string)
Judith Benhamou-Huet

LES ÉCHOS/Worldcrunch

In late 1994 in Krefeld, Germany, Rüdiger K. Weng founded a brand new kind of company on the culture marketplace. An art collector and former banker with Dresdner Bank, Weng had observed that there were no bona fide wholesalers in the fine art market. And so with Weng Fine Art, he created one.

With backing from banks, he created a company that for 17 years now has been selling paintings, sculpture, drawings and prints – more than 15,000 of them by some 500 different artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. And now, after Weng Fine Art was listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange on Jan. 2, Weng wants to take his model to the next level.

"We would like to become a dominant force in Europe, and move up-market," he says. "Other than Sotheby's and Christie's, all the existing structures – and there a lot of them – are very small."

Weng Fine Art's positioning is particularly original. The art it buys is priced on average between 5,000 and 150,000 euros. "That's the broadest segment of the market, and it's also where the biggest profits are," the ex-financier explains. "We sell 95% of our stock at a profit which, in 2011, was 77%."

For the time being, everything rests on the energy and personal connections of the founder. "I go to all the art fairs, and I meet gallery owners," Weng says. He also attends auctions, where he can analyze where demand is in the marketplace.

Weng works directly with Sotheby's and Christie's, as well as smaller French auctioneers Artcurial and Cornette de Saint Cyr. "And there are other influential dealers whose names I can't give you," he adds.

Market arbiter

Auctioneer Arnaud Cornette de Saint Cyr says that Weng sells relatively modest lots in his auction house's sales, including 20th century prints. "But I have seen him act as a kind of arbiter of the international market, playing on the inefficiency of certain local markets," says Cornette de Saint Cyr. "He will sell the work of an Italian or German artist of middling renown in a place where it's going to do really well after buying it at an auction where it went virtually unnoticed."

Weng says his company's strong suit is that it can buy quantity quickly. "If a cash-strapped dealer comes to see me in early July, when the world art market slows down to a crawl, I'm in a position to buy and immediately pay for art works he has for sale."

Some lovers of fine art may find Weng's credo disconcerting: "Art is raw material for investment like any other. I don't actually see most of the works I buy except on the screen of my computer." By way of example, the businessman cites the 100 or so works by Picasso he has in stock, about half of them prints. Destined for quick turnover, the works are geared exclusively to art dealers.

In March, Weng will branch out into retail, creating a subsidiary that will sell art editions on the Internet, including works by Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor, John Baldessari and Georg Baselitz, to be sold at prices between 2,000 and 25,000 euros.

The Weng company's success is the clearest sign that there is a business to made by working with the stock of artists who produce prolifically, such as Picasso, Warhol and Hirst, as if they are "commodities."

Read the original article in French

Photo – 16 miles of string

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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