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

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 โ€” including Geneva’s โ€” 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.โ†ฉ

TBD Catalog

TBD Catalog

TBD Catalog is a catalog from the near future, filled with imagined goods you might see in a SkyMall or IKEA catalog in 2024. Or as they put it, “the catalog of the near future’s normal ordinary everyday”.

This is not your near future of superlative Silicon Valley exuberance where you happily 3D-print a perfect set of lease-licensed Opinel steak knives or blissfully commute to work in your fascistically sleek Google-powered, chem-battery fueled autonomous vehicles. Nor is this the abysmal near future where you huddle in the smoldering foxholes of apocalyptic ruin. TBD Catalog runs through the middle. It is neither extreme. It is a design fiction about a normal, ordinary everyday near future. TBD Catalog is a design fiction because it makes implications without making predictions. TBD Catalog is a design fiction because it sparks conversations about the near future. It serves to design-develop prototypes and shape embryonic concepts in order to discard them, make them better, reconsider what we may take for granted.

From the brains of Bruce Sterling, James Bridle, Aaron Straup Cope, and a dozen others, you can order yours here. And holy cow, I’m getting one of these Bounty Hunter Coaches Jackets too. (Looking good, @darthjulian)