Several days ago the New York Times featured a front-page piece on the state of the big-bucks fine art market:
As Art Values Rise, So Do Concerns About Market’s Oversight
When some of the world’s richest people gather for the glittering New York auction season this spring, they will spend hundreds of millions of dollars in an art market that allows opaque transactions and has few outside monitors.
At major auctions the first bids announced for a piece are typically fictional — numbers pulled from the air by the auctioneer to jump-start bidding.
Collectors can find themselves being bid up by someone who, in exchange for agreeing in advance to pay a set amount for a work, is promised a cut of anything that exceeds that price.
Even worse, the bidders might be lighting fixtures:
For two decades some New York State lawmakers have been trying to curb the practice known as “chandelier bidding,” a bit of art-market theater in which auctioneers begin a sale by pretending to spot bids in the room. In reality the auctioneers are often pointing at nothing more than the light fixtures.
Cut to Friday’s New York Times Weekend Arts section, which featured this full-page ad for Heritage Auctions:
Body copy for the jpeg-impaired:
We believe that chandelier bidding* can be deceitful and bad for the market. That’s why we only recognize real bids from real bidders., and why we always disclose the exact reserve amounts days before each auction. Learn more today at HA.com/about.
*The legally permissible (in New York and elsewhere) practice of opening a lot below a hidden reserve and running the price up to that reserve by pretending to accept bids from imaginary bidders.
The hardclicking staff ventured into darkest page nine of the Googletron but didn’t find any dirt on Heritage Auctions, so we’ll take them at their word until proven otherwise.
Meanwhile, the Times assignment desk might want to think about other reporting that might generate similar ad revenues.
Just a thought.
And better than selling your editorial content outright, the way (via Sneak Adtack) some Canadian papers are doing.