The Art of the Steal


I just finished reading The Art of the Steal by Christopher Mason. It’s about the scandals that rocked Christie’s and Sotheby’s auction houses in the last decade.

The book is less about art than it is about corporate greed and corruption, but it’s still fascinating to read about the people who ran (run?) these institutions. It’s also valuable to know about the auction process, including the sellers’ commissions and buyers’ premiums. These are what got the greedy auction houses into trouble when they colluded on raising their prices, thus violating the U.S. Sherman Anti-Trust Law.

There are glimpses of Sotheby’s famed sale of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sale as well as multi-million-dollar sales of Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Modern Masters–many of which broke records.

It’s hard not to side with the author, who (I think) sees Sotheby’s owner Taubman as a scapegoat for the (at least) three other major figures who were involved. It’s also hard to be even the least sympathetic with Christopher Davidge of Christie’s, the one who told all, was granted immunity, and made off with millions from his former employer.

Next, I’d like to read about what’s happened since Taubman went to jail and all of the fines were paid. Has the auction-house culture changed? Hard to think it has since many of the same figures are still at their posts at Christie’s.

These sites might be of interest on the subject:

The Art of the Steal
Forbes magazine’s Time Line: The Rise of Christie’s and Sotheby’s

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