SOLD: The Revolution in the Art Market by Nicholas Faith

SOLD: The Revolution in the Art Market

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How the buying and selling of art moved from the hushed gentility of dealers' galleries like Duveen's and Rene Gimpel's to the hurly-burly of auction houses like Christie's and Sotheby's is the always engrossing story told here. Central to Faith's narrative is Peter C. Wilson, who was primarily responsible for the dramatic shift. Wilson, aristocratic, given to well-staged tantrums and, all in all, a ""born hustler,"" according to Faith, started out as a porter in Sotheby's London furniture department in the mid-1930's and eventually rose to the chairmanship of the 200-year-old international auction house. Along the way, he became perhaps the world's most successful auctioneer and a master of publicity-generating hoopla. In telling Sotheby's and Wilson's intermingled stories, Faith gives his readers penetrating, sometimes disturbing and frequently amusing insights into the broader realm of the art world itself. As a financial journalist, Faith is especially effective in tracing the vagaries of art prices over the past 100 years. In the chapter, ""The Making of a Market,"" he presents in a mere 10 pages an overview of what motivated collectors in the past and what differing standards apply today. It's a tour. de force of conciseness linked to expertise. The author is equally adept at disentangling the rivalries, past and present, that seem an intrinsic part of the international art scene. Some of the most entertaining pages of Sold are devoted to the machinations by which important works of art are acquired for auction. In addition to possibly sky-high prices, Wilson and his colleagues were also on the alert for items that would produce headlines (with a mention of Sotheby's included, of course). The sale of the contents of the palace of Egypt's King Farouk in the early 1950's, including everything from an incense burner reputedly once owned by Marie Antoinette to a collection of pornography (""rather disappointing,"" some Sotheby ""experts"" opined), took two years to put together, brought the firm widespread attention but very little cash. It is this sort of behind-the-scenes disclosure that makes Faith's book a delight. Sold should fetch attention from everyone interested in the art marketplace.

Pub Date: Jan. 2nd, 1985
Publisher: Macmillan