Geneva, 24 July 2012, Art Media Agency (AMA).
Switzerland is in the forefront of today’s free ports. With twelve currently found in the Swiss cities of Chiasso, Zurich, Basel and Geneva, the country holds the world’s largest stock of works of art.
Free zones allow works of art to be stored and transported in the best conditions while waiting to change hands. Works come for the security and stay for the fiscal treatment. Originally designed to put off customs formalities until the works reached their final destination, today free ports are a tremendous asset to an art market that no longer depends upon the actual presence of the work itself. While works are stored, owners pay neither import taxes nor transaction taxes if a work is sold at the free port.
With a total floor area of 435,000 m2, Geneva’s free zone is home to the world’s largest warehouse of artworks; its worth is inestimable and quantity unknown but growing. Luxembourg has also built a 215,000 m2 free zone, set to open in the airport in 2014. A few months ago, Beijing began construction on the Beijing Free Port of Culture at Beijing Capital International Airport. Singapore’s free port, which opened in 2010 next to Changi Airport, has doubled in size. In total, there exist nearly 40 similarly specialised collections in the world, half of which are based in China.
It is dually worth noting that in 2005, Switzerland introduced a law to verify the origin and ownership of all cultural goods. In 2009, the country turned in a mandatory inventory list, which marked the beginning of a new era for exhibition organisation. As such, the Kunsthaus in Zurich recently organised an exhibition on the well-known Nahmed collection, which is stored in Geneva.
Demand for secured storage has increased considerably; strategically located professional services have also seen a sharp increase. “Preserving art in optimal conditions is the main reason for using warehouses”, asserts framer Denis Schott on swissinfo.ch; a branch of his store has been open in Geneva’s free port for five years.
The example of Simon Studer is also representative. He once took inventory for one of Switzerland’s most high-profile gallery owners, checking sizes, examining the condition of works of art, and looking for signatures. Today, he owns his own gallery, located on the third floor of a warehouse within Geneva’s free port where rent is lower. According to Studer, “It’s just pure business. It’s a very gray, very boring, dark, Swiss place. But when you go inside, you have some surprises” he said in an interview with The New York Times, published on 22 July 2012.
In a world where the quantity of artworks exceeds storage space, the success of free ports principally resides in the quality of services on a given site, as well as on their increasing numbers. This so-called art haven is an ideal spot – and exclusively reserved for an affluent clientele.