Art Auctions Are Just Money Laundering

Michael Wolff sees something sinister behind ever-rising prices for fine art

By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 18, 2013 1:12 PM CST

(Newser) – High art's auction seasons have become celebrated events, and "most of the hyperventilating commentary has been about the exhilaration" of the soaring prices works are fetching—just last week Christie's set a new record. What hardly anyone's talking about is just how sketchy all this is, Michael Wolff observes in USA Today. "Art, perhaps second only to drug trafficking, is among the world's most lucrative dubious businesses," he writes. These days, it's a more efficient and private money place to hide cash than a Swiss bank.

The market's easy-to-manipulate prices are surely "more beautiful than art itself to financial fixers." Bidding up the price on one Warhol increases the value of your other four. It makes no sense that works from the "old masters" are fetching less than contemporary ones, unless, Wolff speculates, big buyers are colluding with living artists. It's little wonder, then, that art's most prominent new public fans are financial industry high-rollers—whom the media naturally casts "as victims of the art world, seduced by its status … rather than predators in it." For more on the particulars, click for Wolff's full column.

A security guard walks next to a work by Kenneth Armitage R.A which will be part of Christie’s London auction house Modern British and Irish Art Day Sale on Nov. 21.
A security guard walks next to a work by Kenneth Armitage R.A which will be part of Christie’s London auction house Modern British and Irish Art Day Sale on Nov. 21.   (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
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