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Ambulance Chasing — It Ain’t Just For Lawyers!

February 6, 2018

Hubert Robert “The Tomb of Virgil at Posilipo, near Naples”

I always thought ‘ambulance chasing’ was reserved for the legal profession?  Now it seems that the auction houses are getting in on the action.  Brian Allen, in his article for The Art Newspaper, points out that the auction houses are now training their sights on financially pressed colleges and museums as part of their business development strategies. This is art-world ambulance chasing.

He goes on to say that, the museums of historically black colleges, the Berkshire Museum, the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University, the Maier Museum of Art at Randolph College, and now the museum at La Salle have much in common. They are small. They have gone largely unnoticed in the museum world. Their universities’ art history faculties teach well but no one is winning a Pulitzer Prize. They have a recent history of money problems. Their trustees are naive. The presidents could not care less about art. Why grovel to elderly, cranky alumni when the museum, often poorly attended, has a treasure trove?

I am convinced that Christie’s and Sotheby’s have taken this profile and gone from museum to museum, college to college, looking for weak points. This does not require too much espionage. Based on my own, hardly proprietary, knowledge, I could tell them which collections to target.

Not too long ago, auction specialists saw themselves as connoisseurs and as stewards of their clients, with whom they often built long-term, trusting relationships. It was business, but auction house owners, directors and senior management knew when to put on the brakes. For the sake of their own image, they understood that raiding museum collections is a lowdown business practice. It is sad to see this side of the art market disappear.

I agree, it is very sad to see the finer sides of the art market disappearing … most will never return.  Today, it is all about market share and profits!

Source: Auction houses must share the blame for university sell-offs | The Art Newspaper