Belgium, platform launched to buy shares in a work by James Ensor


A platform has been launched in Belgium that will allow anyone to invest by buying shares in a work by James Ensor. The proceeds will be used to buy the work and exhibit it at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp.

Belgium is home to the first museum in Europe to cooperate in the purchase of artworks through the Art Security Token Offering system: it is the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA) where, starting April 27, it becomes possible to purchase a virtual share of an artwork through Art Security Token Offering. In fact, art lovers and the general public can become “co-owners” of James Ensor’s Carnival of Binche, an important work that is now privately owned and will be on display starting September 24, 2022.

The KMSKA, in collaboration with the Rubey platform (www.rubey.be), has created a token version of Ensor’s Carnival of Binche: basically, the work is virtually divided into a large number of equal parts. These virtual parts or Art Security Tokens enjoy financial rights to the artwork, which in turn serves as collateral. Art Security Tokens are offered for sale, allowing interested parties to invest in a part of the work starting at 150 euros and up to a maximum of 10,000. The goal of KMSKA is to “democratize” art, as opposed to classic investment methods that involve purchasing works that are unlikely to then be seen by the public, only to be resold for a profit.

In this case, the Binche Carnival was divided into one million tokens worth ?1.41 each (although, as mentioned above, the minimum investment denomination is ?150). The money raised from shareholders’ investments will be spent to purchase the work (costing ?1.2 million), to enable it to be on long-term loan to KMSKA, and to set up the infrastructure to manage the ownership of the work through Art Security Tokens. At any point in time anyone who has invested will be able to decide to cash in any capital gain if the value of the painting increases over time, as well as interest (of course, the eventuality that the value goes down could also happen, in which case you will lose money, as in any investment). You will not, of course, become a physical owner of the work, but you will become an owner of a share in it (the official ownership of the piece will reside in a company linked to Rubey: the goal of the platform is to display the work to the public, and it will do so, as mentioned, in collaboration with KMSKA). KMSKA curators selected Binche’s Carnival based on criteria of quality, authenticity, and condition of the work.

James Ensor is one of the most internationally known Flemish artists, on a par with Rubens, Bruegel or Van Eyck. Ensor is highly regarded: several prestigious international museums, such as the Getty in Los Angeles and the MoMa in New York, have an Ensor in their rich collection. Few know, however, that the KMSKA in Antwerp has the largest Ensor collection in the world. Ensor’s most obvious contribution to modern art is his use of masks. Carnival masks appear in his drawings and paintings beginning in 1887. The painting Carnival of Binche contains his characteristic pictorial language. A wide variety of characters are encountered there: elegant ladies, funny officers and other clowns, masked and grotesque beings. In a 1911 art criticism text, Ensor explained his predilection for the use of carnival masks: “The mask means to me: freshness of color, sumptuous decoration, wild unexpected gestures, very sharp expressions, exquisite turbulence” (“Le masque me dit: fraîcheur de ton, décor somptueux, grands gestes inattendus, expression suraiguë, exquise turbulence”).

The initiative also aims to celebrate the reopening of KMSKA after ten years of closure for construction. The idea, in fact, is to build community even after the Art Security Token sale, to establish a deep relationship with investors. During the reopening period, for example, KMSKA will invite all token holders to admire, at an exclusive event, the work they have invested in. They will also be kept constantly updated on the happenings of “their” Ensor. In the event of a temporary loan of the painting to a foreign museum or new scientific discoveries, token holders will be the first to be informed.

Because they represent a novelty, Art Security Tokens are often confused with Bitcoins or NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens, non-fungible, non-exchangeable digital property certificates). However, Art Security Tokens operate in a regulated market and this is a major difference. The issuance of Art Security Tokens, in other words, is regulated by the laws on financial matters. Investors in Art Security Tokens therefore enjoy the same legal protection as those who invest in stocks, bonds or other securities. Bitcoin or NFT, on the other hand, do not yet fall under a clear legislative framework. Moreover, Art Security Tokens represent a security on an actual existing product, in this case the Binche Carnival, a unique, non-reproducible, museum-quality painting.

“The Topstukkenfonds, the Flemish government’s masterpiece fund, supports museums in the purchase and restoration of collectibles,” explains Jan Jambon, prime minister of the Flemish government. “However, art is a highly coveted commodity, and as a government, it is not always a given that we participate concretely in the international art market. That is why we applaud the initiative of KMSKA and the Rubey platform. Through this innovative method of investing in its collection, KMSKA and the Rubey platform will go down in history. They make the holdings of private individuals accessible to the public again and allow everyone to invest in a prestigious work of art. An excellent example of public-private collaboration.”

“The KMSKA becomes more than just an art exhibition venue,” emphasizes Luk Lemmens, president of the KMSKA. “We are strongly committed to involving visitors and token holders in our collection and activities. The possibility that anyone can become a ’co-owner’ of James Ensor’s Binche Carnival represents a truly unique circumstance. The KMSKA already boasted the largest Ensor collection in the world. By adding the Binche Carnival to it, our museum becomes even more of a specialized center on Ensor.”

“I am absolutely convinced that this is not a passing fad,” says Peter Hinssen, Rubey partner and technology entrepreneur, “but rather the beginning of a revolution. From a technological perspective, Security Tokens are currently the ultimate in blockchain. But equally important is the social implication. Investing in Art Security Token is a true impact investment.”

Image: James Ensor, Carnival of Binche (1924; oil on canvas, 76 x 61 cm)

Belgium, platform launched to buy shares in a work by James Ensor
Belgium, platform launched to buy shares in a work by James Ensor


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