The Art of the Steal: Inside the Sotheby's-Christie's Auction House Scandal

The Art of the Steal: Inside the Sotheby's-Christie's Auction House Scandal

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by Christopher Mason
     
 

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The Art of the Steal tells the story of several larger-than-life figures - the billionaire tycoon Alfred Taubman; the most powerful woman in the art world, Dede Brooks; and the wily British executive Christopher Davidge - who conspired to cheat their clients out of millions of dollars. It offers an unprecedented look inside this secretive, glamorous, gold-plated

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Overview

The Art of the Steal tells the story of several larger-than-life figures - the billionaire tycoon Alfred Taubman; the most powerful woman in the art world, Dede Brooks; and the wily British executive Christopher Davidge - who conspired to cheat their clients out of millions of dollars. It offers an unprecedented look inside this secretive, glamorous, gold-plated industry, describing just how Sotheby's and Christie's grew from clubby, aristocratic businesses into slick international corporations. And it shows how the groundwork for the most recent illegal activities was laid decades before the perpetrators were caught by federal prosecutors.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Veteran art writer Mason does a good job separating the bad guys from the slightly less bad guys in his lively, anecdote-packed saga about how the world's two leading auction houses, Sotheby's and Christie's, conspired to fix prices on everything from famous paintings to antique furniture. Alfred Taubman, the shopping-mall king who bought Sotheby's in 1983 to keep it from falling into the hands of a couple of carpet salesmen, became the only principal in the case to actually do jail time apparently due to what some courtroom observers labeled "the worst defense money can buy." It didn't help that Diana "DeDe" Brooks, who started her career as an unpaid intern and whose workaholic habits persuaded Taubman to make her Sotheby's CEO, became one of the government's chief witnesses against Taubman. On the Christie's side, the lineup features a number of snobbish Brits, including Christie's CEO, Christopher Davidge, who seems to have sold everyone else down the river. It would have made for smoother reading if Mason (or his editor) had done some pruning: how many times do we need to be told that Brooks is six feet tall or that Taubman's wife, Judy, is a glamorous former beauty queen? But in the end, it's the story that carries the day an amazing and depressing chronicle of greed in the name of culture that should (but probably won't) keep art buyers from ever walking into an auction house again. Agent, Todd Shuster at Zachary Shuster Harmsworth. (May 11) Forecast: Blurbs from Dominick Dunne and Amanda Foresman, author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, will help reach those who read Vanity Fair and other upscale magazines. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A damning story of dirty dealing in the art world. In the early 1980s, the auction house Sotheby's was in trouble, with a faltering economy and its chairman's profligacy threatening to bring the venerable institution to its knees. Enter shopping-mall magnate Alfred Taubman, who appreciated the gloss Sotheby's would add to his resume and the swell parties he would be able to attend. It didn't take long for Taubman to realize that business could be conducted more profitably if certain niceties were observed-namely, agreeing with fellow auctioneer Christie's upon buyer's premiums and commission rates "mutually beneficial to both firms." There follows, in Mason's fair reporting, a tale of "divvying up big estates on a one-for-me, one-for-you basis," attempting to ensure that all lots at auction commanded the highest possible price. British law and American law clashed over what exactly constituted collusion, but a Christie's executive squealed, quailing at the prospect of besmirching his name, let alone jail time. The whole rotten edifice crumbled, as Mason intricately details. Suddenly, what was thought to be the ultimate in fair bidding became a joke, revealing "a deceitful, secretive criminal scheme whose object and purpose was illegal profit." (Though fabulously rich clients wanting to "deaccession a few major pieces" may not prompt excessive amounts of reader sympathy.) The defendants didn't even demonstrate a measure of contrition: "Blinded by ambition, you substituted shame for fame," the judge lectured Sotheby's chief Diana Brooks, who in his view traded her title of CEO "to be branded a thief and common criminal." Taubman skipped with minor punishment, and Mason baldly suggests thatconnections served him both on the way up and on the way down. Journalist Mason calls into question exactly what drives the art market at so breathtakingly profitable a pace. Agent: Todd Shuster/Zachary Shuster Harmsworth

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780425202418
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/28/2005
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
416
Sales rank:
579,573
Product dimensions:
6.16(w) x 9.04(h) x 0.92(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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