The Auction House Scandal

Once unquestioned and all-powerful, Sotheby's and Christie's are reeling from a sweeping investigation of their business

Maybe it was Oscar Wilde, the greatest Irishman since the blessed Brendan, who said it best: "One must have a heart of stone to read [Dickens' description of] the death of Little Nell without laughing." Much the same is true of the latest story to convulse the art world: the travails of the world's two biggest art-auction businesses, Sotheby's and Christie's, rivals that now stand accused by the U.S. Justice Department of colluding to rig the auction market by fixing their sales-commission rates. The art market, particularly in its auction form, has always been secretive, manipulative and repellently sanctimonious, preaching the...

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