UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Mythical Islands of Value: Free Ports, Offshore Capitalism, and Art Capital Post, Erik; Calvão, Filipe


The Geneva Free Port in Switzerland has paved the way for a new generation of art and luxury free ports. These are critical spatial pivots for the management of art assets, including storage and transactions of artworks, and serve as proxy to examine mechanisms for the capture and generation of value, integral but also outside the global art market. Drawing from the trajectory of the Geneva Free Port and an interdisciplinary body of scholarship on “offshore” and other special zones of production, and value circulation in human geography, anthropology, history, and sociology, this article frames free ports in a longer genealogy of offshore capitalism. First, we claim that the emergence of the Geneva Free Port prefigures and helps illuminate contemporary transformations in offshore capitalism; second, these spaces are more deeply imbricated with public and state authorities than previously suggested. Finally, a holistic understanding of art capital—works of art for investment and asset management—requires an encompassing view of free ports not as accidental and exceptional features in the world of high art but as spaces deeply implicated in the creation and operation of the art market more generally.

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