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Drawing Boundaries in the Art Market, since when?

Not so long ago, somebody bright and curious could be an art collector, an art dealer and an art curator all at once. Take the late Stuart Cary Welch for example. However, the practices as well as the mores in the art field have changed over the last few decades and now one could not collect for one’s own collection in the same field as one is curating on behalf of an institution or display art at a museum where you are a trustee — after all, there is much to be said about conflicts of interests? Just imagine, you have a good eye and you see something offered for sale in a little shop in X, you could buy it cheap for your employer but you could also buy it cheap for yourself, offer it on a temporary loan, write an article or two about it and voila, you can now resell it for much much more to, let’s say, the very institution you are working for. 

These days auction houses are surprising us with their versatility and new marketing techniques, such as Carte Blanche sales of Phillips de Pury. However, according to Ed Dolman, Christie’s chairman, there are certain lines his auction house would not cross. Commenting on the famous single-artist sale of new works by Damien Hirst held by Sotheby’s in 2008, entitled Beautiful Inside My Head Forever, Dolman opined “I think the Damien Hirst sale had pretty extreme inherent conflicts of interest that, to my mind, probably pushed the boundaries of what is believable in an auction and what isn’t, so I don’t think we as an auction house would have taken that sale on in that form.” The criticism was made at a panel discussion, Trans­parency in the market…can we have more of it? in New York in March, 2011. The discussion was held jointly by the Art Dealers Assoc­iation of America and The Art Newspaper.

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Hosted by Anna Somers Cocks, Founder and Group Editorial Director of The Art Newspaper, the panelists included: 
  • Peter Stern, Art Lawyer
  • Richard Feigen, Art Dealer
  • Lucy Mitchell-Innes, President, Art Dealers Association of America
  • Allan Schwartzman, Art Consultant
  • Ed Dolman, Chairman Christie’s International

For more coverage of the discussion, read The Art Newspaper. There would be no conflict of interest in hosting an event and then writing about it, right? Of course not, for now.