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You can’t visit the world’s largest art collection

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2017

Last week, I took a trip to France to visit friends, eat good food, and walk around (a lot).1 My friend David scooped me up from the Geneva airport and on the way out, we drove past one of the stops on his tongue-in-cheek unconventional tour of Geneva: “this is where all the dictators land their airplanes so they can stash art and diamonds in the Freeport”. In this film by Braden King for Field of Vision, Gilles Labarthe explains what the Geneva Freeport is.

Among other things, the Freeport is probably home to the world’s largest collection of art (including 1000 Picassos) and largest collection of wine in the world. But it’s mostly a tax-haven for the super-rich:

Free ports originated in the 19th century for the temporary storage of goods like grain, tea and industrial goods. In the last few decades, however, a handful of them — including Geneva’s — have increasingly come to operate as storage lockers for the superrich. Located in tax-friendly countries and cities, free ports offer savings and security that collectors and dealers find almost irresistible. (Someone who buys a $50 million painting at auction in New York, for example, is staring at a $4.4 million sales tax bill. Ship it to a free port, and the bill disappears, at least until you decide to bring it back to New York.)

This Economist article provides much more information on free ports. (via @daveg)

Update: Aaron Straup Cope suggests that maybe we should move museums out to the airports.

Do you notice something about each one of those places I’ve mentioned? They are all hubs for the major airlines. It’s not so much that everyone visits these places but they certainly all pass through their airports.

So why not just display the Smithsonian collection there? And not just the hub airports. All the airports. Seriously. I haven’t done the math but I would wager that the sum total of available square footage for displaying objects spanning all the airports, large and small, across the United States dwarfs the entirety of The National Mall in Washington.

The Smithsonian has a 137 million objects in its collection. It could fill every large and mid-sized airport in the country without breaking a sweat or even taking anything off the walls in Washington. Rotating those objects between airports would be trivial, or at least imaginable.

  1. While in Paris, I walked just under 61 miles in 7 days.