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Art's Dirty, Big Secret



Here’s an oldie but goodie: Christian Viveros-Fauné wrote at the turn of last year about art’s “dirty, big secret”–namely, that it’s an unregulated playground for rich people, with issues like price fixing, money laundering, and market manipulation run amuck.

He writes:

A year-end wrap-up of art in Gotham would be meaningless without mentioning the single greatest transformation to have struck the visual arts globally: namely, that the art market has turned into one big corrupt casino, a place where price fixing, market manipulation, bribery, forgery, theft, and money laundering have become as popular as risky mortgages were in 2007. The evidence of this transformation is everywhere, if one cares to look. There are scandals, court cases, indictments, and suspiciously skyrocketing auction records. In China, the world’s largest market for art and antiquities, it’s now widely acknowledged that most auction sales are routinely defaulted on. (According to Forbes, the “vast bulk” of that country’s $13 billion art market activity goes “unpaid,” yet is still widely used for the purposes of “money laundering or the bribing of government officials.”) Today, everyone knows about the importance of China’s economy to the world’s stability; but has anyone thought about the impact that that country’s fraudulent art business may soon have in the U.S. and Europe?

Color me naïve, but I actually didn’t know it’s common knowledge that most auction sales are defaulted on. Read the entire article on the Village Voice website here.

Concluding the article, he writes, > “But what doesn’t bother him and other players is news to many inside the art world, and fundamentally shocking to most people outside its cliquish confines. The big secret in the art world is that today nearly everyone agrees that art is a dirty business, though few speak out for fear of banishment from the ultimate insiders’ club. It’s high time the art market was cleaned up: by the government, by self-regulation, but above all by a resolve among club members to straighten out a trade that, when measured against any other legal industry, is downright criminal.”

Do you think the lack of regulation in the art market is plainly criminal? What would the regulation of the art market look like?


I’ve read about people lamenting the so-called unregulated art market for years, but never learned exactly what should be regulated, and what is and isn’t covered by existing laws, taxes, and the like. That Village Voice article falls woefully short of articulating these matters, as does much of Christian Viveros-Fauné’s published research into art-world economics.


I totally agree; I would like to know exactly what can and should be regulated and how to implement it. Who could write this text?!