New York Representative Jerrold Nadler Slams Christie’s and Sotheby’s

The Congressman claims the auction houses are giving him the runaround.

Jerrold Nadler
New York Representative Jerrold Nadler.

New York Representative Jerrold Nadler had harsh words for Christie’s and Sotheby’s at a panel discussion Thursday. At the Princeton Club, he told an audience that the auctioneers had negotiated with him in bad faith over the American Royalties Too (ART) Act.

ART would require that living artists get a cut of the increased value when their works sell at auction for markedly more than the original price. The bill didn’t come up for discussion in the last Congress (see No Artist Resale Rights for US, For Now).

The auction houses, Nadler said, gained numerous concessions in the bill and still don’t support it. (Auction houses, rather than galleries, are the targets of the legislation because the prices paid for artworks at public sales are made public, which is not the case at galleries.) He provided artnet News with the text of his remarks as prepared.

“The bill is not without its critics,” he acknowledged. “The big auction houses oppose the bill. As far as I can tell, they don’t want the wealthy buyers/collectors to pay the original artists anything at all.

“When I last met with them many months ago, they suggested we explore other ways to support artists. I asked them for their ideas, and they said they would get back to me. I haven’t heard a word about them since.

“The auction houses also asked us to include eBay. We did. They still don’t support the bill.

“The auction houses asked us to put in a cap. We did. They still don’t support the bill.

“The auction houses asked us to lower the royalty rate. We did. They still don’t support the bill.

“So, I would argue that their concern is not so much with the details of the bill (although they may want you to think that), but with the whole concept to begin with. And on that front, we are just going to disagree. They are the ones out of step with the rest of the world, not us. We stand with the artists, while they stand with the collectors.”

Nadler announced that he would reintroduce the bill. He said it is “well positioned,” with a dozen congressional cosponsors, especially since Congress has undertaken a comprehensive review of copyright law, under which the provision falls.

In an email to artnet News, Christie’s said that it cannot support the bill because the number of working artists who would benefit is too small, the beneficiaries are already successful, and galleries and dealers ought to be subject to the law as well. In the email, Christie’s did not address Nadler’s accusation of bad faith or acknowledge the concessions the house has gained.

Sotheby’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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