Halsey Minor Battles Sotheby’s Again – artmarketblog.com
In my previous post I made reference to a court case involving CNet founder Halsey Minor who sued Sotheby’s in 2008 for allegedly failing to fully declare when they had an ownership stake in works that they sold him. Sotheby’s won the case and were awarded $6.64 million in outstanding debts. I mentioned that I was not aware of whether Minor had appealed the decision – well, just after publishing this post, I received an email from Halsey Minor to inform me that he had in fact made an appeal on the 24th of November 2010. Minor will be hoping for another positive outcome like the one he received when he sued Christie’s in December 2008 for waiting too long to return some of his art after failing to sell the works on his behalf, and not returning the works when they said they would. Minor won the case against Christie’s and was awarded $8.5 million which was the calculated drop in value that the works in question experienced while in Christie’s possession. According to Minor in an email sent to myself: “in 8 hours a jury found Christie’s guilty of Fraud, Theft and Failure to Honor a Contract and awarded me $8.5 million”.
As the appeal against Sotheby’s is still being processed I cannot comment on the case, but I would like to revisit the case Minor won against Christie’s. The reasoning behind Christie’s holding the paintings by Richard Prince that Minor had consigned to Christie’s, but had failed to sell, was that Minor owed Christie’s $12 million at the time for works that he had purchased through the auction house. Christie’s essentially held the Prince paintings to ransom in the hope that they would be able to recoup some of the money that Minor owed them. Unfortunately for Christie’s, this was not an ethical means of encouraging Minor to pay them what he owed, and was what essentially won the case for Minor. Christie’s also had a $1.5 million breach of contract counterclaim for when Minor declined to pay for work that he had purchased at auction which Christie’s won. Mind you, the win for Christie’s was no-where near as significant as Minor’s win.
At the end of the day one expects a reputable and highly respected business like a major auction house to act ethically, morally and legally at all times regardless of how their clients act. Although I would never condone illegal or immoral action by a client of an auction house, considering the number of clients that the large auction houses deal with it is almost inevitable that some of them will not play by the rules. A major auction house, on the other hand, should never be seen to conduct their business in a way that breaches ethical, moral or legal boundaries – yet there is plenty of evidence that they have. What is even more disturbing is that the auction houses are so powerful that even the most discrediting mud seems not to stick.
To be continued……..
**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of http://www.artmarketblog.com, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications