A sweep of headlines in recent years might give the innocent bystander the impression that the art world has lost its moral compass. For example, the tens of millions of dollars worth of fakes
sold through the Knoedler & Company gallery
started making headlines in 2011 and resulted in ten lawsuits and at least one guilty plea for wire fraud and money laundering. The 2016 leak of the Panama Papers showed how the wealthy stash art offshore
and use shell companies to mask their ownership, including allegedly to hide Nazi-looted art or conceal it from an unsuspecting spouse. And antiquities smuggling may have reached new heights with Subhash Kapoor, the now-jailed former owner of Art of the Past on Madison Avenue whose $100 million trove of contraband objects
, found in warehouses in Manhattan and Queens, was described as “a black-market Sotheby’s” by an American investigator.
But all of this malfeasance merely builds on centuries of practice, according to Philip Hook, senior director of the Impressionist and Modern Art Department at Sotheby’s in London. In his witty and entertaining new book, Rogues’ Gallery: A History of Art and Its Dealers (2017), he takes the reader on a tour of art-world impropriety from the Renaissance to the present. Hook’s final chapter looks at the 21st century, but he refrains from too much detail on contemporary practices, prioritizing instead, “good relations with [his] colleagues.”
Hook does profile dealers who have been heroic in their support of modern art and of artists. Still, in his account scapegraces predominate. Here are 5 dicey behaviors with, as they say in the art world, impressive provenance.
A 2016 study by Deloitte found price manipulation was the highest-ranked concern among the art market community, with roughly three-fourths of those surveyed describing it as a “major damaging factor
to the reputation of the global art market.” But the practice was sufficiently common in the 18th century to be mocked on stage.
, a satire by Samuel Foote, Mr. Puff, the auctioneer, explains to Carmine, the artist who has painted a fake
, how part of the take must go to the confederate who helped bid up the price. In 1872, Paul Durand-Ruel, the great promoter of the Impressionists, bought 400,000 francs of ’s
work, then ignited “a fever” for the artist through secret representatives bidding up prices at auction. He later told Renoir, “It is essential that public sales reach big figures, whether or not the prices are fabricated.”