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.
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.
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