Even buying art is art with new financial product

Mon May 17, 2010 10:51am EDT
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - In Renaissance Florence, the Medici used cash from their banking activities to back young artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Now art investors can buy their own derivative of an artist's future.

Tom Saunders, 23, a conceptual artist who graduated from Camberwell College of Arts in London last year, is offering investors options on his future work.

For 2,000 pounds ($2,884) now, you get the option of buying any piece of his work for one pound in 10 years' time, according to London's Times newspaper.

Two investors, including one well-known collector, have reserved options already, on the proviso that they want to meet Saunders before signing cheques. The resulting work of art is unlikely to be as traditional as a painting -- conceptual art focuses on ideas.

The process is covered by a legal contract, known as an emerging artist derivative contract -- itself a work of art according to the artist and to murmurART, the company in east London that is staging his latest exhibition.

If Saunders turns out to be the next Marcel Duchamp, whose urinal sculpture has been voted the most influential artwork of the 20th century, or even the next Tracey Emin, investors can rub their hands.

But if his career crashes and burns, they will be protected by contract provisions that cover lack of production and death.

"In terms of drafting, an option over an artist's work is, in theory, no different from an option over a share," Rupert Beecroft, at Ferguson solicitors, which drafted the contract, told the Times.

"The biggest challenge was the human element of the contract and the need to define a constantly changing pool of artistic work to enable the option to be exercised and ensure enforceability of the agreement."

Even the most well-known conceptual artists often take a long time to achieve commercial success, because their works and ideas can take years to develop. Saunders is hoping to use money raised from his show to develop his career without worrying about commercial pressures.

(Reporting by Paul Casciato; Editing by Steve Addison)