Ivey-Selkirk Temporarily Barred from Operating

Due to numerous client complaints over non-payment, St Louis Missouri Attorney General has issued a temporary restraining order on auction house Ive-Selkirk to cease sales. The article states there have been over 40 complaints to the Attorney Generals office and 77 to the Better Business Bureau.  The complaints are for non-payment, bounced checks and refusing to return property.  Ivey-Selkirk has not responded, and local officials fear the number of clients not being paid will rise.

The St Louis Post Dispatch reports
After 184 years in business, a Clayton auction house that has been plagued recently by customer complaints over missed payments is temporarily barred from operating following the issuance of a restraining order sought by the Missouri Attorney General's office.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster's office said the restraining order against Ivey-Selkirk Auctions and Appraisals and owner Malcolm Ivey is related to a civil petition it filed April 3 in St. Louis County Circuit Court that accuses the auction house and Ivey of unfair business practices and making false promises in violation of Missouri's Merchandising Practices Act.

Ivey-Selkirk, which specializes in auctioning fine art, jewelry, and automobiles, ceased holding auctions this year as complaints of missed payments mounted. Ivey did not return calls seeking comment.

In its petition, the attorney general alleges customers' checks from Ivey-Selkirk bounced and the auction house refused to return items to consumers when requested.

Koster is seeking to permanently prohibit Malcolm Ivey and Ivey-Selkirk from providing auction services in Missouri, civil penalties and reimbursement of the state's costs for the investigation. It's also seeking repayment for customers or the return of their items.

"We are examining very closely the circumstances that apparently led this company to cease doing business, leaving consumers without payment," Koster said in a statement. "Our priority is to protect consumers who never received the money they were owed."

As part of its investigation, the attorney general's office, the Clayton Police Department and St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch executed a search warrant of Ivey-Selkirk's office on April 1.

The temporary restraining order signed by St. Louis County Circuit Court Judge David Vincent III Monday prohibits Ivey-Selkirk from accepting consigned items, selling goods, removing property from its offices on Forsyth Boulevard, destroying documents or spending funds received from current or former clients. In issuing the restraining order, the court ordered Ivey-Selkirk to post a note on the entrance of its business notifying customers they cannot remove items from the business without proof of ownership.

The attorney general's office said it has received about 40 complaints in recent months from customers who allege they did not receive payments owed from Ivey-Selkirk. The local Better Business Bureau also has received 77 complaints against the company since the start of the year, said BBB investigator Bill Smith.

Because the contracts Ivey-Selkirk signed with customers typically required payment 60 days following a sale, Joe Bindbeutel, chief of the attorney general office's Consumer Protection Division, said he expects the number of affected customers to rise. "There may be a whole lot of victims who don't know they're victims," he said.

Bindbeutel said the investigation, which is ongoing, revealed that Ivey's past practice was to use proceeds from unrelated auction sales to pay customers for money owed on other auctions. "Mr. Ivey was robbing Peter to pay Paul, and that's a business plan that never catches up with itself," Bindbeutel said.

Ivey-Selkirk is facing multiple lawsuits from customers, including a breach of contract suit filed in February by Connie Kling of Webster Groves, who alleges she is owed $50,000 from an auction of her jewelry in December. "The items were sold and the proceeds have not been delivered after numerous requests," said Kling's attorney, Joseph Bante.

Malcolm Ivey purchased the auction house in 2002 from London-based Phillips, which acquired it from the Selkirk family in 1998. The Selkirk family ran the auction house that was founded in 1830 for six generations before selling it to Phillips.

Customers who did not receive payments from Ivey-Selkirk can contact the attorney general's office to file a complaint by calling 800-392-8222 or online at ago.mo.gov/consumercomplaint.htm.
Source: St Louis Post Dispatch 


Sotheby's Responds to Third Point's Investor Presentaiton

Sotheby's has issued a response and its own  presentation to the recent investor presentation by activist investor Daniel Loeb and his hedge fund Third Point. Third Point is the investor group trying to gain control over the future direction and leadership at the auction house. Sothbey's is fighting back against the Third Point investor presentation and accusations.

Click HERE to view the full Sotheby's presentation and response.

In short, Sotheby's states
Highlights of the presentation include:

• Sotheby’s has consistently delivered strong, long-term performance and is executing a clear strategy to drive continued growth and profitability;

• Sotheby’s maintains a strong leadership position within the art market and continues to invest in areas exhibiting substantial growth and potential for attractive returns;

• Sotheby’s Board and management remain keenly focused on expense management and have effectively managed the capital needs of a growing and cyclical business with prudent fiscal discipline;

• We believe Mr. Loeb does not possess the long-term focus necessary to drive value for ALL Sotheby’s shareholders; and

• Sotheby’s Board and management are steadfast in their commitment to strong corporate governance and shareholder stewardship.
Source: Sotheby's


Troubling News for Regional Auction House Sloans and Kenyon

The Washington Post is running a story abut regional auction house Sloans and Kenyon. According to the Post article, Sloans and Kenyon auctioned an Ellsworth Woodward painting (see image) for $21,500.00 including commissions from consignor Robert Fastov's collection. The painting was purchased by a New Orleans broker and appraiser.

So the story gets interesting as the whereabouts of the painting are unknown.  The purchaser does not have it, the consignor does not and the auction house does not.  The post article states the purchaser is suing and claiming that Sloans and Kenyon re-sold the painting after the auction at a higher price.  Sloans and Kenyon deny this.

Fastov, the consignor is not happy with the results the sale of his collection from the auction house, accusing them of not properly promoting the large collection of fine and decorative art. But, he does not think the auction house would have been foolish enough to do something underhanded.

Sloans and Kenyon deny any wrongdoing and state they do not know what happened to the painting, but the sale is not final until payment is made, and they have not accepted payment from the purchaser as they could not deliver the painting.

A suit brought in Louisiana against Sloans and Kenyon awarded the purchaser over $40,000.00 but that decision has been challenged Slaons and Kenyon attorneys and could be reversed.

All in all an interesting read and story to follow.

The Washington Post reports
Some time around 1917, American artist Ellsworth Woodward put the finishing brushstrokes on his impressionist painting of a sun-dappled New Orleans fountain.

In February of last year, that oil-on-canvas was sold at an auction in Bethesda. With the commission, it went for $21,500.

Now, no one knows where exactly the painting is. Not the person who sold it, Washington collector Robert Fastov. Not the person who bought it, Amanda Winstead, a New Orleans art broker and appraiser. Not the auction house that auctioned it, Sloans & Kenyon on Wisconsin Avenue.

You can see the problem.

“Somehow it got misplaced,” said Stephanie Kenyon, the auction house’s owner. She says that after the two-day sale, the canvas was misfiled. “We have a huge facility. It hasn’t turned up yet.”

That does not sit too well with buyer Winstead, who in August filed a lawsuit in a Louisiana court against Kenyon and the auction house, contending that Kenyon didn’t misplace or lose the painting “but rather sold the painting to a third party for a greater amount than what Plaintiffs agreed to pay.”

Nonsense, said Kenyon. “I know she’s trying to send around nasty information about us to try to stir up trouble,” she said.

I first heard about the case when Winstead’s attorney, Lisa A. Montgomery, sent me a news release about it. I’d written a column about the massive Fastov auction: 1,500 works, including pewter plates and Colonial portraits.

Fastov is quite a character. The retired government lawyer and self-taught art expert is no stranger to litigation himself. In 1993, he tussled with Christie’s over one of his paintings, suing it and being sued by it. (Eventually, he was ordered to pay $630,000 to the British auction house.)

Fastov said he hadn’t heard the Woodward painting had disappeared. He’s still sore at Sloans & Kenyon over the auction of his collection. Although he said it earned him about $400,000, not everything sold, and he accuses the auction house of, among other things, not advertising the sale enough. (Said Kenyon, diplomatically: “His expectations were extremely high. The market wouldn’t support that in many cases.”)

Despite his irritation, Fastov doesn’t think Sloans & Kenyon pulled a fast one with the Woodward painting.

“I don’t think even they are dumb enough to do something like that,” he said.

Still, when you buy something, you do expect to actually get it. So the aggrieved buyer has a case, right? Well, it’s more complicated than that.

“No money changed hands here,” Kenyon said. “We didn’t accept her money. We don’t want to take money for something we can’t deliver.”

Well, if Winstead didn’t fork over $21,500, what’s the big deal? No harm, no foul, right?

Not so fast said Montgomery, the plaintiff’s attorney. She said the ownership of an item “transfers at the fall of the hammer. Remember, the auction house doesn’t own the item. They’re taking it on consignment. When the hammer falls, it goes from Fastov to my client. My client by law is the legal owner of the painting.”

Said Kenyon: “That’s not true.” She said the transaction isn’t complete until the check is received, the order processed and the artwork delivered.

This is a bigger deal than it might be because of what happened a few months before the Fastov auction. Woodward (1861-1939) is a respected, if not especially pricey, Southern artist. The estimate on this particular work was $15,000 to $25,000. But in November 2012, a larger Woodward oil sold for a considerably larger sum: $185,225, including commission.

If you could snap up a Woodward for $20,000, you might be looking at a tidy profit.

Would-be buyer Winstead already has made some money, or will if things keep breaking her way. In October, a New Orleans court ruled in her favor and ordered Kenyon to fork over $43,500.

Kenyon is fighting back. Her attorney in Louisiana, Joe Myers, said he filed what’s called an action for nullity to reverse the decision. He said the bidder contract that Winstead agreed to stipulated that any disputes would be settled in a federal court in Maryland, not in Louisiana, and that any liability is limited to the price paid, not twice that amount. He’s livid at the accusations of a switcheroo leveled at Kenyon — and that Montgomery issued a news release, something he considers unlawyerly.

“If we get it nullified, I’m pretty sure there would be a suit against the plaintiffs for malicious prosecution and libel,” Myers said. (Said Montgomery of her news release, “I see that done here, not all the time, but it’s not unusual.”)

Meanwhile, Montgomery says her client has listed the painting with the Art Loss Register, the service that tracks lost or stolen artwork, in case it should surface somewhere unexpected.

Said Kenyon, the auction house owner, “When it turns up, we’ll certainly let everybody know.”
Source: The Washington Post


Dan Loeb On Sotheby's

Dan Loeb's fund, Third Point which is looking to gain additional control of Sotheby's through 3 additional board seats has released a 30 page Investor Presentation. The presentation examines some of the concerns Third Point has about the current Sotheyb's strategy and business model and includes its own plan for future growth and management of the auction house. It lists 5 points, including Third Points Strategy and Vision, opportunities for auction and private sales, secured lending, principal and dealer sales, and brand extension.

It is an interesting presentation and worth the time to review. click HERE to download the Investor Presentation.

The Third Point Investor Presentation states
Last week, Sotheby’s defended itself against the activist investor Daniel S. Loeb by questioning both his strategy and — perhaps just as galling to him — his credentials in the art world.

On Monday, Mr. Loeb sought to rebut criticisms of both.

In a 30-page document, Mr. Loeb’s Third Point hedge fund laid out its case to shareholders about why it should win three seats on the auction house’s board. It lacked some of the clever visual puns embedded in his firm’s activist campaign website, but the document sought to show that Sotheby’s has underperformed over recent years.

The PowerPoint presentation comes as the battle over Sotheby’s board heats up. The company put up its own slides last week, and both sides have now made their cases to Institutional Shareholder Services, the big investor advisory firm, according to people briefed on the matter.

A recommendation from I.S.S., whose support can often influence the outcome of a proxy fight, is expected as soon as next week.

In Third Point’s presentation, the hedge fund argued that even though Sotheby’s sold more art last year than it did at its last peak in 2007, the auction house generated less revenue and spent more money to accomplish that. Third Point also argued that Sotheby’s management has failed to produce steadily rising returns for shareholders, pointing to the stock’s swings over the past 15 years in an effort. (The company has argued that it has outperformed several stock indexes over the past year, five years and decade, including the Standard & Poor’s mid-capitalization index.)

Over all, according to Mr. Loeb’s firm, the company’s $1.88 in earnings per share last year were down 42 percent from 2007.

Behind that lagging performance, Third Point reiterated, was a mix of poor corporate governance and management, including a failure to seize on private art sales and improving technology. (For its part, Sotheby’s said in its presentation that private sales were up 30 percent last year, at $1.2 billion.) The hedge fund also argued once more that the board members together owned less than 1 percent of Sotheby’s stock, a fraction of the roughly 10 percent that it controls.

Sotheby’s, the hedge fund argued, has failed to take advantage of a booming market for luxury goods to bolster its returns.

“Given the global tailwinds in the marketplace, this performance is unacceptable and we believe it can be linked back to failed leadership of the Sotheby’s board,” the hedge fund wrote.

Third Point also devoted an entire page to what it called “misleading” attacks by the auction house, including questions about Mr. Loeb’s experience in the art world. Here’s what the hedge fund wrote about its founder’s experience:

In the art/auction and luxury spaces, Mr. Loeb is a leading collector of modern and contemporary art, has been recognized by ARTNews as one of the “200 Top Collectors” each year since 2005, has had portions of his personal collection exhibited at the MoMA in New York and in other global museum retrospectives and shows, and is a trustee of the MOCA in Los Angeles.

A climax in the fight is less than a month away: Sotheby’s annual meeting is scheduled for May 6, though both the company and Third Point are in court battling over shareholder defenses that the board put in place this year.
Source:  The NY Times


Emerging Art Techniques and Vocabulary

The Wall Street Journal takes a fun look at some of the new vocabulary being used in the art world.  The article touches on a few unusual terms such as houseable, permanent loan, chandelier bides, and curated.

Yet the meat of the article looks at the fuzzy terminology surrounding prints such as "original prints" and limited editions. The article them moves on to digital art with giclees, digital C prints and digital color coupler prints.  The next group is sculpture, such as bronze, Aqua-Resin, concrete, fiberglass, plaster, terra cotta, bronze powder, cold case bronze and bonded bronze.

As appraisers we should be familiar not only with the terminology, but also all of the new and innovative processes artists are using which come along with technology.

The Wall Street Journal reports
Just as the legal profession has its Latinisms and the sports world its slang, the art world has its own language and jargon that can often leave outsiders scratching their heads.

This insider vocabulary includes terms that may seem a bit comical ("houseable," meaning the artwork fits in a normal-size living room) or contradictory (objects in a museum may be on "permanent loan," which is a loan no one has any intention of paying back, or donated as a "fractional gift," meaning the owner may keep possession of the piece while donating it in installments over time).

Some auction houses take "chandelier bids" (nonexistent bids that auctioneers call out while pointing at light fixtures) to get prices higher at major sales that increasingly are "curated" (organized in a way to increase prices).

Here is a look at a few more:

Prints and More Prints
Art galleries sell "original prints" (multiple versions of the same image) that are produced in "limited editions." One might assume that the meaning of the term limited edition is self-evident, that a fixed number of copies have been made of one image: A limited edition of 20 means that only 20 of these prints exist. But this is where customary use of language and art world practices diverge.

Some state laws don't prohibit publishers from printing more copies of the same image, and publishers might even call these later printings limited editions if they print them in, say, different sizes, different colors, on different types of paper, call one an American edition and the other a European edition or use different printing technology. Multiple limited editions isn't an art-world term, but it should be.

Then, there are "proofs." There are printers' proofs, publishers' proofs, presentation proofs, artists' proofs, B.A.T.s (bon-a-tirer, or final working proofs) and hors de commerce (not-for-sale proofs, which sometimes are sold anyway), and they may equal or exceed the number in the edition itself.

Proofs often are prized, as they traditionally have been used as rough drafts of the final image, with notations—often written in by the artist on the proof—for adjustments in color or something else; theoretically, a proof gets one closer to the thinking of the artist.

Nowadays, there is no difference between the edition and the proofs, but because of that long-lost mystique of uniqueness, sellers typically charge more for proofs than for works in the regular edition.

A Digital Revolution
The realm of contemporary fine-art photography has become more confusing over the past dozen or so years with the advent of digital photography. It used to be that buyers could choose between black-and-white or color photographs, or the occasional platinum print, but that was when everyone had cameras that used actual film to record images and printed them on traditional photographic paper.

These days, a photographer may use a digital camera and print on traditional photographic paper or produce a photographic negative that is printed on a digital inkjet printer. Other artists are digital from start to finish.

The result is a new language to describe what used to be called photographs. However, it isn't always a shared language.

Take inkjet prints. Fine-arts photographer Emmet Gowin refers to some of his work as "digital inkjet prints," while Judith Joy Ross describes her photographs as "archival pigment prints," perhaps to inform prospective buyers that something about the paper and inks will make the artwork last longer than what typically comes out of an office printer. (Today's digital prints have been shown through accelerated life span tests to have at least a century in them, if cared for properly.) Laurent Baheux, known for his photos of African wildlife, creates what he calls "giclees" (a French term that began being used to describe inkjet prints in the 1980s), while Chuck Close, known for his massive-scale portraits, produces "digital pigment" prints.

Then there are "digital C prints," "digital chromogenic prints" and "digital color coupler prints." All three terms describe the process of a photographic file (rather than a traditional negative) going through a digital exposure system, and then being developed using conventional photographic chemicals.

Are these differences important to collectors? Buyers of black-and-white images from earlier eras care deeply about photographic processes, as well as who did the printing and how soon the print was made after the image was taken, insiders say. Buyers of contemporary photography "couldn't give a damn," says New York City photography dealer Laurence Miller.

What's In a Sculpture?
Bronze, which is 95% composed of copper, has become very expensive, forcing sculptors who have to pay foundry costs upfront to search for ways to economize. Some do so by casting only one sculpture at a time as they find buyers, rather than creating an entire edition.

But more artists are starting to create work from other materials—including Aqua-Resin, concrete, fiberglass, plaster and terra cotta—which are less expensive and can be produced right in the studio. Some resin sculptures are now labeled "cold case bronze" or "bonded bronze." That may lead some buyers to believe they are purchasing a traditional bronze when the piece actually is made from a polymer in which some bronze powder was poured in.

Artists also are buying metal and mica powders that are poured into molds or applied as a patina to give a "faux finish" that resembles bronze, which may add to a buyer's confusion.

Also confusing can be the terms used to describe posthumous work. Consider the Roy Lichtenstein sculpture "Coups de Pinceau," or "Brushstrokes," which was recently installed at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills, Calif. The work, created in 2011, almost 15 years after the artist's death, is called a posthumous artist's "proof," even though the artist obviously had nothing to do with it. (His estate made the new version.)

Perhaps the best advice for those who aren't fluent in the language of galleries is to look upon art-world terms and descriptions as a sort of word soup—one that should be consumed with a dash of skepticism.
Source: The Wall Street Journal


Growth In Lesser Works by Major Artists

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article on middle market collectors pursuing lower grade works from major artists.  Art experts, the article states are concerned of the growing interest and collecting trends in lower level, "irrelevant and lacking in "merit" works. The auction houses are taking not of the trends, seeking these works as well, not to sell in the important evening sales, but for the new online only sales.

The works include pieces such as sketches, prints and other miscellaneous types of works which used to be boxed and stored in archives are now finding a market.  There are warning signs as well, as these types of items grow in popularity with collectors and in value, they are easy to fake and produce. As always, let the buyer beware.

The Wall Street Journal reports
As prices for blue-chip artists often climb into the tens of millions of dollars, the art world is offering up works that just a few years ago may not have been deemed worthy for sale. Small items—overlooked gems, dashed-off scribbles, even scraps artists may have assumed were headed for the garbage—are increasingly being auctioned off to an eager and growing audience.

Cheaper, minor artworks by major blue-chip artists have opened up a new market for first-time collectors. An inside look at the Andy Warhol small-works sale underway at Christie's Auction House.
In the last year, a Florida couple successfully bid on their first work of art—a postage-stamp sized sketch by Pierre-Auguste Renoir—for $6,250. At another auction, a signed napkin Andy Warhol covered with squiggly lines fetched $1,395. For less than $4,000 each, collectors nabbed a Pablo Picasso ceramic bowl emblazoned with a bullfighter and letters Henri Matisse adorned with fanciful doodles.

The sales defy a maxim of the art market: Buy the best works possible, not lesser pieces by bigger stars. But for many people, the bragging rights of owning your very own Renoir or Edgar Degas, even if it is just a doodle, are irresistible.

There is also a potential pay off: At Christie's, a simple terra-cotta limited-edition tile by Picasso that fetched less than $1,000 in 2010 can now sell for double that at auction, according to specialists. A Warhol cow wallpaper print that typically sold for around $5,000 a few years ago now can fetch $20,000 or more. Big gains can also be found outside an artist's primary medium: Alexander Calder's brooches were attainable for $10,000 before 2000, but lately have cleared $100,000.

The niche for lesser works has been troubled by fakes and theft. Some pieces are so simple they could be forged without great effort, or so small that they could have been stolen from a studio floor or plucked from the garbage without artists realizing it.

Strong demand has nevertheless spurred auction houses to hold online-only sales and other auctions specifically for works from the margins of a great artist's career. They repackage leftovers that used to get shipped off to museum archives or boxed up by heirs uncertain where else to put them. Now, some of these small works are surfacing for the first time in years.

"These are the names everybody knows—they feel safe for people, especially when no one quite knows exactly how long a good run is going to last," said Meredith Hilferty, a director at Rago Arts & Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J.

In the last five years, roughly 17,000 limited-edition pieces, works on paper and paintings by 10 top artists including Marc Chagall, Joan Miró and Degas have sold at auction for $1,000 to $10,000—a 45% increase over works sold by the same artists a decade ago in a comparable price range, according to the auction database Artnet.

As lower-priced pieces enter the mainstream, some art experts bristle at what they see as a rising acceptance of irrelevant work with little artistic merit.
Source: The Wall Street Journal


Ex Christie's CEO Moving to Phillips

The NY Times is reporting Edward Doman, the ex CEO and Chairman of Christies will be leaving his position as the Executive Director of the Qatar Museums Authority and will be heading to Phillips as the new chief executive. Phillips is owned by the Russian Mercury Group, dealing in luxury items.

The NY Times reports
Many in the art world were betting that Mr. Dolman, 54, a respected 27-year veteran of Christie’s — he was chief executive and chairman before his departure for the Middle East — was returning to an auction house.

But which one? As it turns out neither Christie’s nor its archrival, Sotheby’s. Mr. Dolman has decided to challenge the decades-old duopoly and become chairman and chief executive of Phillips, the struggling third-place auction company.

“It’s certainly been tried before,” he said of mounting that challenge in a telephone interview, adding that he wanted to refocus his life in London and New York. He starts his new job in July. “I’ve always thought it would be good for everyone to offer clients more options, especially with the significant growth in the number of collectors there are now from all over the world.”

Mr. Dolman is returning to his roots. “My first job was at Phillips,” he said. “Around 1983, I was asked to help out with a country house sale in Bath,” in England. “Unfortunately, I went off to play rugby on Saturday afternoon just when the chief executive came to have a look at the sale. My absence didn’t do me any favors. I wasn’t offered a permanent job.”

Since Harry Phillips, a former employee of Christie’s, founded the company in 1796, Phillips has had a colorful — and checkered — past. Early on, it sold paintings from the estate of Marie Antoinette, old master paintings owned by King Stanislaus of Poland and gilt furniture from Buckingham Palace. But in the last century, it settled into being a place to buy and sell middle-market merchandise with offices throughout Britain.

In 1999, Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, bought a majority stake in the company, which he eventually merged with a dealership run by two former Sotheby’s officials, Simon de Pury and Daniella Luxembourg, creating Phillips, de Pury & Luxembourg. Mr. de Pury became the Phillips chairman and Ms. Luxembourg its president. After pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the business, Mr. Arnault eventually bowed out. Ms. Luxembourg left in 2003.

By 2008, Phillips had new owners, this time the Mercury Group, a Russian luxury goods company. Four years later, Mr. de Pury left, and the company went back to being called simply Phillips.

The Mercury Group has deep pockets and a big vision. It moved Phillips’s Manhattan headquarters from scrappy premises in the meatpacking district to Park Avenue and 57th Street. Two years ago, it also bought a large building at 30 Berkeley Square in the Mayfair section of London for $160 million, and is transforming it into a luxurious home.

Michael McGinnis, its current chief executive, is staying at Phillips, Mr. Dolman said, as the company’s chief business getter.

Phillips sells contemporary art, design, photography, limited edition prints and jewelry. But Mr. Dolman said he plans to “look into expanding into different categories.” He is expected to lure talent from Christie’s and Sotheby’s to Phillips. For now he is not saying.
Source: NY Times