Buying Art on the Cheap in Argentina, Courtesy of the Government

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Why Art Isn't Just Art in Argentina

For Argentines desperate to get their hands on dollar-based assets, this weekend’s art festival in Buenos Aires is a can’t-miss event.

Not only will they be able to buy artwork that’s quoted in dollars with their pesos, but they’ll be granted a favorable exchange rate on the transactions. Well-heeled attendees can access dollars at the official rate, sidestepping currency controls that would otherwise send them to the illegal black market where greenbacks cost 40 percent more.

In Argentina, art isn’t just art. It’s a dollar-based asset that acts as a store of wealth in an economy ravaged by inflation. Consumer prices have risen 29 percent annually over the past four years, according to economists’ estimates, while the peso has tumbled 55 percent against the dollar in that span.

“Anything priced at the official rate is interesting in Argentina nowadays,” real-estate agent Braulio Bauab, 48, said between sips of champagne at the 2015 arteBA. “I’ve bought a couple of pieces because I found them beautiful, but I also considered their potential for preserving or increasing value.”

At the four-day festival in Buenos Aires, expected to attract more than 100,000 visitors, international galleries are allowed to bring in artworks as temporary imports. When local buyers find something they like, the culture secretariat and the customs office have stands at the fair to speed up the process of making the imports permanent.

Luxury Goods

Argentina’s favorable treatment of artworks contrasts with the government’s stance on imports of other luxury goods such as jewelry and designer clothing, which officials have restricted amid concern they’re draining dollar reserves. Total imports this year have dropped to the lowest level since 2009.

The Economy Ministry’s press office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Argentine peso was little changed at 9.0139 per dollar on Friday.

Among the artworks for sale are items from local artists with international renown. Options include a $60,000 sculpture by 72-year-old Marta Minujin, the mother of JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s president in Argentina, Facundo Gomez Minujin. Her works are in the collection of New York’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Liliana Porter, whose pieces are held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, also has works at the fair.

Last year, a record 22,000 art pieces were sold in the nation, according to the Argentine Galleries Association. That was a 25 percent increase from 2013.

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