Art's Dirty, Big Secret

An old email prompts thoughts of a year in review

As one British constable put it in a BBC article detailing how "criminal gangs are increasingly targeting high-value works of art" in Britain and Europe: "Where there's money to be made, organised criminals will move in if we don't stop them." But the issue the art world faces today is not just about Russian mobsters or auction-house sharks in pinstripes. It's about emails sent by normally stand-up guys offering access to "insider information" regarding artists whose careers are treated not even like pork bellies, but like fixed football games.

Elba Esther Gordillo
Elba Esther Gordillo

When I met Peter Hort for lunch and asked him about the email I'd received, he seemed positively nonplussed. The art world was like "the Wild West," he offered jauntily, and "driven by inside knowledge" that was "fully legal," if certainly less than fair or ethical. 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.

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