The controversial auction of “Slave Labour (Bunting Boy)” [ht: ja], a Banksy mural that disappeared from the wall of a north London shop in mysterious circumstances, was dramatically halted on Saturday just moments before it was due to go under the hammer.
As for the rest of the contemporary art market,
While a few high-profile crimes have brought the most egregious art world misdeeds to light, a whole host of surreptitious or underhand maneuvers – most of which are perfectly legal – remain in shadow. Notoriously unregulated, the American art market has metastasized in recent years, even as the American economy has sputtered.
And for financiers, oligarchs and other “ultra high net worth individuals”, the art world offers a spectacular two-in-one deal. In addition to reliably strong returns on investment at the very top of the market, art offers instant social prestige to people who may have already made their fortunes, sometimes in a manner not in keeping with the art world’s supposed progressive values.
At Art Basel Miami Beach this past December, several dealers publicly lamented the absence of the billionaire hedge fund manager Steven Cohen, once one of their most reliable collectors. Cohen is currently under investigation over allegations related to insider trading. The Justice Department has not pressed charges against Cohen or his firm, SAC Capital Advisors, and Cohen has always maintained that he has acted appropriately. Six employees of SAC have been convicted or pled guilty to insider trading; others have been assisting federal authorities in their investigation. . .
All of this has a direct effect on artists, and on the art they make. “The vast majority of artists are struggling, underpaid, underemployed, and under-recognized,” [artist Andrea] Fraser said. “Like the majority of workers in other fields, they feel like victims of a system over which they have no control.” Her students at UCLA, where she teaches an undergraduate course on the social and economic aspects of art, “find it pretty devastating”.