Society for Economic Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
In 2013, a New York City real estate developer named Kenneth Cayre bought a 110,000-foot parking lot on East 146th street in Harlem with plans to build a four-story art storage warehouse in its place. He named the windowless slate-grey structure Arcis, or “fortress” in Latin, then took idea one step further. A shiny new art depot in upper Manhattan was one thing; but a tax-deferred freeport could attract far more attention from local and international clients. Acris opened in April 2018; it is New York City's first and only art freeport. Freeports, also known as free-trade zones or FTZs, allow for sales taxes on art to be deferred for as long as the works are stored inside the zone in the U.S. But there's a catch: there are no import duties on art in the U.S, and the freeport has no bearing on local and state taxes. What, then, is the point of this FTZ designation? Is it a clever tax hack, or misleading (but equally clever) marketing? This study examines how Arcis fits into the larger ecosystem of offshore art around the world. Over the past decade, new freeports have opened in Luxembourg, Singapore, and Delaware. Their proliferation supports both the growth of the contemporary art market, and the increasing popularity of fine art as an investment. Since so many international buyers now buy art for the purpose of speculation, these warehouses serve as crucial no-man’s-lands between the seller, the auction house, and the next buyer.