Art Market Scandal: Sothebys vs Christies, In the red corner….
With Sotheby’s having dominated the art auction world for so long it is good to finally see Christie’s stepping up to the plate with fantastic auction results and the record for a single day auction at $491 million. The rivaly between Sotheby’s and Christie’s has never been stronger with both auction houses being reported as offering guaranteed prices for vendors artworks at auction. There have even been reports of Sotheby’s and Christie’s waving their fees in an effort to secure the sale of a particular artwork or collection just so they can get the resulting publicity and kudos.
Christie’s recent and controversial purchase of the highly regarded gallery Haunch of Venison caused a flurry of opinions many of which accused Christie’s of blurring the lines between what galleries and auction houses offer and calling the purchase a conflict of interest. Christie’s wasnt the first auction house to purchase a gallery though with Sothebys purchasing Noortman Master Paintings in last year which ended up an unsuccesful venture so can Christie’s do what Sotheby’s couldnt, we will just have to wait and see.
It is worth remembering that not too long ago both Sotheby’s and Christie’s were involved in a huge scandal which saw the chairmen of both auction houses indicted by a federal jury in the United States for a secret deal between then two to fix commissions which resulted in sellers in the US alone allegedly being overcharged more than $400m in commissions. Christies received leniency after co-operating with the Justice department but the chairman of Sothebys received a year in jail for his actions. The scandal doesn’s seem to have had any effect on the business of either auction house, in fact you wouldn’t even know that their history is tainted.
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.