When passing by a Sotheby’s window in Santa Monica, California, the artist was surprised to find that the 1744 auction house not only sells fine arts, but also a range of luxury goods and real estate around the world. Wine, cars, property and even islands with a private landing strip are offered to “experienced buyers only” – with price upon request.
The story of Las Vegas, the rise of the gambling industry in the desert of Nevada, is one of organised crime. While hotels and casinos are suitably designed for visitors to have fun and forget the concept of time, something always seems off: Marmor facades that are made out of wood or cardboard, mirrors with a slimming effect, free drinks being served to casino guests once they take a seat in front of the gambling machine. Behind the decorative walls lies a dubious history. Similarly, the structures of the fine arts market also leave room for criminal involvement when transparency of cash flows is lacking.
The painting Sotheby’s (Bel Air) refers to the city of Beverly Hills in Los Angeles County, where the American mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel used to live. In 1945, when he moved from LA to Las Vegas, there were only two casinos. He bought one of them and converted it into the “Flamingo Hotel”. The money for this project came from the Sicilian Mafia, the ”Cosa Nostra”. Siegel tried to hide his income abroad. In 1947, he was murdered in his house in Beverly Hills.
The property in the painting Sotheby’s (Bel Air of Las Vegas) is based on pictures presented on Sotheby’s website, where it was listed for sale for 6,5 million USD in 2017. Influential people from the movie and music scene, such as Frank Sinatra, met here in the 1950’s-1960’s. Today, it is the property of singer Phyllis McGuires. She was the long-time girlfriend of Sam Giancana, a busy mafia boss in Las Vegas. There are many stories depicting high society’s involvement with the Mafia, not at least theories about the death of John F. Kennedy.
Sotheby’s also offers luxury houses that don’t even exist yet but that can be viewed as computer animation, offering the potential buyer the ability to curate their own dream houses. The picture Sotheby’s (Las Vegas) shows such a fictitious house with a view of the Las Vegas Strip.
It remains interesting to reflect on the motivation behind purchasing these luxury houses, islands, wines for 3.000 USD, painting for up to 450 million USD or a vase – found in the attic, then sold at the same price as the property of Phyllis McGuires. Everything can be bought or rented today, like the apartment in the painting Sotheby’s (Hollywood). The apartment is not finished yet – but you know you will have the Las Vegas Strip right at your doorstep.