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CFP Conference: Compliance/Defiance Through Luxury, Art, and Antiquities

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

Compliance/Defiance Through Luxury, Art, and Antiquities Regulating Away the Bad, the Opaque, and the Ugly

LUXCORE Conference

5-6 December 2022

Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo

9:00 – 18:00

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Photo by Liza Rusalskaya on Unsplash

Join us in discussing crimes through and against art, antiquities, cultural heritage, and luxury – and in shedding light on the ideologies that underpin the regulation of these crimes and moral infractions. Speakers will explore the dynamics of compliance and defiance, and the modes of transgression and forms of corruption that pertain both to rulemaking and rulebreaking, the making and unmaking of social order, the making and destruction of value, and the role of material culture in it.

In response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Western governments issued a series of sanctions targeting individuals, companies, and whole industries, stretching the pre-existing sanctions regimes to levels never seen before. The UK, US, EU, and Switzerland have, among others, sanctioned the delivery, sale, transit, and export of luxury goods to Russia and Belarus, including art, antiquities, jewellery, luxury cars and so on, hoping to rob the Russian elites and oligarchs of enjoyment and pleasure, as well as of the means to stash away their wealth and proceeds from corruption in high-value goods. Oligarch’s luxury yachts, private jets, and art collections have been targeted and seized while the Western art world have endeavoured to ‘weed out’ the sanctioned oligarchs from its midst, in fears of the art market being exploited as a route for sanctions evasion.

This focus on the ‘dark side’ of the art, antiquities and luxury markets has not emerged out of the blue. On the contrary, there have been a series of influential revelations, reports, and scandals that have cast a harsher spotlight on the art, antiquities, and related luxury markets and their intersections with the dark and illicit aspects of the global economy and global criminal markets. The Panama Papers included revelations about the art market and its relation to offshore jurisdictions[1], while reports have documented the destruction, looting and smuggling of cultural heritage by ISIS in Iraq and Syria[2]. OFACs advisory report on sanctions evasion and money laundering in the art market discussed, among other figures, the sanctioned oligarch’s Arkady and Boris Rotenberg[3]; while an EU report explicitly connected money laundering and other financial crime risks to freeports storing high-end art and other goods[4]. This is not to mention the steady stream of journalistic revelations and criminal investigations of scandals, frauds, counterfeiting, looting, smuggling, and more across these markets. The financialisation of the art, antiquities, and luxury markets have contributed to popularity of such high-end goods as points of integration in money laundering operations; while non-profits, governmental bodies, and investigative journalists are making increasingly frequent links about the relationship between these markets and grand corruption in their public discourse.

Such scandals have stimulated the calls for art and luxury market transparency and accountability, as well as the progressive transformation of voluntary standards and soft forms of self-regulation into harder forms of regulations. However, this call for ‘transformation’ typically involves the expansion of pre-existing anti-money laundering regimes – from the Directive (EU) 2015/849 (5th Anti-Money Laundering Directive) which also targets freeport operators, the extension of the anti-money laundering regulation under the Bank Secrecy Act in the US to antiquities dealers, to the discussions about the Enablers Act in US, and similar debates elsewhere. What these regulations have in common is the way they go about ‘regulating’ these markets. Namely, by stimulating the proliferation of ‘audit cultures’ (Shore & Wright, 2015, 2018; Strathern, 2000) and expanding the logic of compliance and risk-based approaches appropriated from financial markets and banking regulation; approaches that rely on (enhanced) due diligence, KYC (know your customer), PEP screening and sanctions screening. The goal is to bring these markets out of the shadows and into the ‘light’, to make transactions ‘transparent’, to document record, audit, and create paper trails, generating suspicious activity reports (SARs) for law enforcement and intelligence units to act upon. Such efforts involve the subjection of clients, intermediaries, and artworks and antiquities themselves to both overt and covert intelligence investigations and risk assessments that encompass both provenance of funds and objects, with the latter now being delivered by tech and consultancy companies who supply reports based on OSINT (open-source intelligence), along with other proliferating actors in the compliance-industrial complex (Kuldova, 2022).

What we are witnessing is nothing less than the securitization of the art, antiquities, and luxury markets. Such markets are increasingly being seen not only as facilitators of crime and corruption, but as instrumental in crime prevention, detection, intelligence gathering, and foreign policy – such as through sanctions regimes, asset freezes, unexplained wealth orders (e.g., the UK Economic Crime Act 2022[5]). These forms of regulation enlist regulated entities and diverse art market participants – including museums – in the tasks of crime prevention and the implementation of foreign and security policy, placing both legal and moral duty on these markets to perform policing functions.

At the same time, we have seen that over the last two decades, an entire industry has emerged, catering to the needs of the corrupt and the criminal (Markus, 2017). This industry exploits the fine lines between the legal and illegal, consisting of ‘evasion experts’ facilitating tax evasion and money laundering (Zucman, 2015), but this does not mean that it can be neatly separated. We introduce the concept of defiance and the ‘defiance industry’ to capture this apparatus and its logic, while acknowledging the complexity of these issues at hand and the fact that compliance and defiance cannot often be neatly separated. The Russian oligarchs, and they are not alone, have shown us that evasion, often carefully kept invisible and untraceable, paradoxically also manifests itself in luxurious defiance vis-à-vis national and transnational systems of regulation, and in visible refusals to submit oneself voluntarily to the global regime of ethics of transparency, openness, accountability, and audit – or else, to comply. It manifests in the quest for spectacular displays of wealth, in the quest for sovereignty, in the hoarding and collecting of value, worth and prestige. The sense of ‘special liberty’, or else, of the sense of entitlement to transgress rules, norms, and regulations in the name of self-interest irrespective of harmful consequences (Hall and Wilson 2014), is at the core. Discussions about the role of intermediaries and enablers – including art consultants, experts, including lawyers and accountants, but also curators, academics, art and antiquities dealers, actors within auction houses – are also gaining a momentum. Simultaneously, we see also the intensification of debates about repatriation of looted and stolen cultural property and art, and of museums and other institutions implicated in trafficking, both historical and current. This forces us to rethink this hegemonic regulatory perspective and the imaginary that underpins it, as well as the relation between compliance and defiance.

What modes of defiance escape the gaze of this particular form of compliance, and what sorts of defiance are enabled by these regulatory visions? Thinking more broadly: what kind of a world does compliance envision for us? What is at stake if we come to view the world of art, antiquities, and luxury primarily through the lens of crime, data, intelligence – as financialized, securitized and to be audited? What happens to the cultural objects, and culture itself in the process? Does anything get lost when we apply this narrow lens – one that does not consider social, cultural, historical, or political contexts, one that does not care for that which cannot be recorded and subjected to risk assessments? If so, what is that we are losing? Should we rethink the very nature of what it means to comply and defy? Are such compliance measures, which are aimed at tackling financial corruption, inadvertently contributing to the corruption of art, culture, and heritage itself? Is this too steep a price to pay, and can we find another way of combatting such ills?

The ideological fantasy (Žižek, 1989) is one of pre-emption through risk management, transparency, and auditing; of filling regulatory ‘gaps’ and ‘loopholes’ which are imagined as the escape hatches of the corrupt and criminal. It is an imaginary of a leaky regulatory system that always demands more regulation but that also bears a promise of wholeness, of a future point of when all these holes and gaps would be filled, a world of perfect control architectures, where risks, crimes and threats could be anticipated, pre-empted, and prevented, where all is transparent and ready to be analysed – and thus controlled. Now this fantasy is to target the world of high-value cultural artefacts and culture itself, a world that is deemed opaque, murky, private, informal, and hence easily corruptible, a world where value is both discretionary and driven up by chains of prestige enhancing operations over long periods of time, involving institutions and expertise, and where some objects are deemed inalienable, invaluable, and priceless, or expressions of sovereignty. What happens when the reductionist visions of purity as audit come to target culture and heritage along with the markets and illicit actors that trade in culture? What visions of ethics and morality do they enact?

Our aim is to go beyond the narrow legal and criminal justice perspectives on crimes through art, antiquities, and luxury and instead take these perspectives as a starting point for a critical discussion of the role of both financialization and securitization of culture. What does it entail to attempt to regulate away the bad, the opaque and the ugly? We invite contributions from across legal anthropology, critical criminology, area studies, history, and archaeology. In particular, we are interested in papers addressing subjects such as:

  • luxury, art, and antiquities – and corruption, transgression, defiance, and sovereignty

  • freeports, crime and the paradoxes of regulation

  • unsettling the dichotomies of onshore/offshore, regulated/unregulated, transparent/opaque

  • critical perspectives regulation of the art, antiquities, and luxury markets and the ‘compliance-industrial complex’

  • historical perspectives on regulation, social control, and the role of high-value cultural objects

  • the role of luxury goods, art and antiquities in sanctions busting, evasion, and defiance

  • critical perspectives on the role of intermediaries and the ‘defiance industry’ and the relation between compliance and defiance

  • the criminogenic features of elite consumerism and modes of defiance through luxury consumption and display from cultural and historical perspective

  • critical perspectives on the role of institutions, such as museums, galleries, auction houses in both facilitation and pre-emption of crime

  • elitist visions of sovereignty through the consumption of luxury, art, antiquities – and security

  • the security and expert infrastructures around high-value cultural goods and elite visions of sovereignty

  • conceptions of morality, ethics and regulation pertaining to the intersection of cultural heritage, art, antiquities, luxury and crime and corruption, across time and space

Abstract Submission

Please submit your abstract by 20 October 2022 to Tereza Østbø Kuldova We will be also editing a volume based on this project as well as this conference. If you would like your paper to be considered for publication, please indicate so when submitting your abstract.

An abstract of no more than 300 words

Name, title, and institutional affiliation

Contact details and a bio of no more than 150 words


Tereza Østbø Kuldova, Oslo Metropolitan University

Gro Birgit Ween, University of Oslo

Jardar Østbø, Norwegian Institute of Defence Studies

Thomas Raymen, Northumbria University Newcastle

Keynote Lecture

Fiona Greenland, University of Virginia, US

Confirmed Speakers

Alexandra Hall, Northumbria University Newcastle, UK

Joanne Roberts, Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, UK

Julia Bethwaite, Tampere University, Finland

John Armitage, Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton, UK

Håkon Roland, University of Oslo, Norway

Tereza Østbø Kuldova, Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway

Ilja Steffelbauer, University for Continuing Education, Krems, Austria

Jardar Østbø, Norwegian Institute of Defence Studies, Norway

Thomas Raymen, Northumbria University Newcastle, UK


Markus, S. (2017). Oligarchs and Corruption in Putin’s Russia: Of Sand Castles and Geopolitical Volunteering. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 18(2), 26-32.

Shore, C., & Wright, S. (2015). Audit Culture Revisited: Rankings, Ratings, and the Reassembling of Society. Current Anthropology, 56(3), 421-444.

Shore, C., & Wright, S. (2018). How the Big 4 got big: Audit culture and the metamorphosis of international accountancy firms. Critique of Anthropology, 38(3), 303-324.

Strathern, M. (Ed.). (2000). Audit Cultures: Anthropological Studies in Accountability, Ethics and the Academy. Routledge.

Žižek, S. (1989). The Sublime Object of Ideology. Verso.

Zucman, G. (2015). The Hidden Wealth of Nations: The Scourge of Tax Havens. Chicago University Press.

This conference is part of the project Luxury, Corruption and Global Ethics: Towards a Critical Theory of the Moral Economy of Fraud (LUXCORE), funded by The Research Council of Norway (313004).


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