The Art of the Steal: Inside the Sotheby's-Christie's Auction House Scandal

by Christopher Mason

Putnam, May, 2004.
Hardcover, 406 pages.
ISBN: 0399150935

The Art of the Steal: Inside the Sotheby's-Christie's Auction House Scandal by Christopher Mason On January 11, 2000 two separate events occurred. Sotheby's, the fabled auction house of the world's art, held a celebration at its glittering new ten-story building to celebrate its sally into the twenty-first century world of the Internet. Earlier that same day, the United States Justice Department issued subpoenas to three Michigan companies headed up by A. Alfred Taubman, the new chairman of Sotheby's. This was the beginning of an investigation that would shake the international world of art to its core. Both Sotheby's and Christie's (which in a good year show profits of about $30 million each) had to pay fines of $256 million apiece, as a result of the civil case related to a conspiracy to fix commission fees and commit fraud. Michigan shopping mall mogul A. Alfred Taubman, former chairman of Sotheby's, was found guilty in the criminal trial and sentenced to jail for a year and a day, after employee Diana Brooks turned witness against him. He maintains his innocence to this day.

The Art of the Steal describes the events that led up to the scandal, as well as the aftermath. The book has a cast of characters and venues that even the finest novelist would have trouble concocting. Nothing can be more entertaining than a story full of fascinating, elegant, wealthy, and devious personalities playing a high stakes chess game against each other in an international setting full of the most fabulous art that the world has been able to preserve. Those who love to read about corporate intrigue will find a useful handbook of ways to appear innocent, while involving oneself in illegal acts. Those who enjoy true stories of great legal battles will be equally entertained.

The personal jibes and gossip of staff of the two auction houses are particularly delicious and witty. One can learn that Diana "Dede" Brooks, the CEO of Sotheby's held a meeting with archrival Christopher Davidge, CEO of Christie's, (to illegally agree on fees) in her dark green Lexus parked at the airport. One can also learn how the impeccably groomed Mr. Davidge, who had come from humbler circumstances than his peers at the firm, was able to maintain his bouffant blonde hairdo with a clever device that attached to any bathroom mirror and allowed him to see the back of his head. Due to his diminutive stature, he was nicknamed the "golden hamster" by his sniggering colleagues. One can also marvel at just how the lovely Mrs. Taubmann, who had held a disputed beauty queen title in Israel, was able to massage the skin off a peach to the absolute amazement of every male at a posh Manhattan dinner party. It is also inspiring to read about Alfred Taubman, the overweight, dyslexic Jewish boy from Michigan who ended up with owning a majority of the shares of the world's most famous art auction house and the hand in marriage of a beautiful woman.

Did the right people go to jail? Was Justice served? Not necessarily. But Sotheby's survived, and so did Christie's. Where else can the wealthy of the world sell a piece of art to raise cash or exchange one treasure for another one?

--Sarah Reaves White

The Art of the Steal: Inside the Sotheby's-Christie's Auction House Scandal is available for purchase on

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This review was published in the September-October, 2004 of The Internet Writing Journal.

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