Let's start by stating the obvious: there's no model for what Christy MacLear is trying to do at Sotheby's in her new role as an advisor to artists' estates.
As such, MacLear and Sotheby's are simultaneously taking a big risk and trying to exploit a potential opportunity. Not surprisingly, the announcement has provoked a number of strong reactions. It is instructive to explore some of these reactions. So let's start with some of the most public ones.
Kelly Crow went straight to some art lawyers to see what they thought on the day the news was announced. (She also spoke with some gallerists whose opinions will be discussed behind the paywall.) Here's Crow:
Even so, art lawyer Thomas Danziger said the latest move feels unprecedented. “This is huge,” he said, calling the move a “tightrope act” that will require the auction house to balance its need to appease shareholders seeking profits with artists seeking long-term guidance on how to get—and stay—in the art-history textbooks.
“If there’s a tight quarter, will Sotheby’s be tempted to sell off works in a way that could impact their artists’ careers?” Mr. Danziger said.
This is a strange extrapolation from what is known about MacLear's plans. It seems to capture a fair bit of the hysteria surrounding the announcement simply because it posits Sotheby's having direct control over an artist's estate. Such a leap, especially from an art lawyer, seems odd. Sotheby's has a Trust & Estates department but no one is suggesting that in tight quarter the auction house plots the demise of a good prospect.
Crow's conversation with a gallerist gets much closer to the real thorns here:
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