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"Pawnshop" is such a loaded word: It almost immediately conjures up an image of a seedy, fluorescent-lit room with a clerk standing behind bulletproof glass and display cabinets full of tacky gold jewelry. Fortunately, if you happen to be rich, possess a reasonably large collection of art, and you're desperate for cash, you can call up Art Capital Group, which doesn't look anything like a pawnshop since it's located in the former Sotheby's building on Madison Avenue, and "looks at first glance like an art gallery," reports the Times. But bring Art Capital your collection and they'll do the same thing every other pawnshop does: They'll extend you a loan using your art works as collateral, and if you fail to pay back what you owe, you'll have to say goodbye to them forever.

The Times describes several notable people who've been forced to take advantage of Art Capital's services recently. Photographer Annie Leibovitz, for example, borrowed $5 million from Art Capital last fall and returned in December to borrow another $10.5 million, using her townhouses, country house, and the rights to all of her photographs—both her existing work as well as any photos she takes in the future—as collateral. Julian Schnabel turned to Art Capital for an $8 million loan in 2006 to construct his pink-hued West Village Palazzo Chupi. Then there's Veronica Hearst who handed over pieces from her collection in an effort to hold on to a 52-room mansion in Manalapan, Fla. You may know how this story ends. The rare pieces that once graced Hearst's Fifth Avenue penthouse and Florida mansion? They're now hanging in Art Capital's reception area.

That Old Master? It’s at the Pawnshop [NYT]