There is no way to deny that the Sotheby’s /Christies conviction of collusion was just a hollow financial road block. Ever since being proved guilty of the crime, they now are able to flaunt their activities with total impunity (lost the battle; won the war).
The most obvious examples of colluding are posted every Friday in the New York Times Arts section, where they both dutifully post their auction schedules for the next week or two.
I wonder if I’m the only casual observer of their scheduling to notice that the NEVER seem to have sales that overlap in the same category. By what miracles or possibility can one schedule an evening sale of Latin American art of Wednesday night, and the other on Thursday night (not day sales of course). Oh did I say “not day sales”, well to finish the non-compete process, they each have day sales, on consecutive days.
These companies’s don’t plan their sales by chance. This duopoly operates in a highly collusive manner, as their sales plans are always coordinated for practically every department that they both have in common. How far does this collusion really go and who are the individuals who sanction and devise this agenda? As anyone in the trade will acknowledge, within their own area of the market, Sotheby’s and Christie’s work their scheduling to their benefit so as not to create a direct competition with each other’s sales. This collusion is even more apparent when there are important dealer shows in town, where they can better distribute scheduling to attract show attendees.
Competition is very different than collusion. With Boards of Directors that are chosen for influence to maintain their image and hold off regulatory or legal attacks, their approaches require like minded thinking. Their competition to sell shouldn’t and can’t be like their more competitive battle to get good consignments.
Al Taubman’s conviction and the duopoly’s guilty verdict on collusion have given way to their steady lockstep rise of the buyer’s premium and a denial that any form of collusion was meaningless anyway. I guess the joke is on the public as long as the PR machine keeps pumping out distracting headlines on their record breaking prices.