NM bill would impose government oversight of art auctions

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – A bill introduced in the New Mexico Legislature would impose government oversight of art auction houses and change the way some do business.

Sen. Tim Keller’s bill would authorize the Attorney General’s Office to regulate art auctions and act on consumer complaints. It also mandates certain disclosures, such as minimum prices and whether an auction house has a financial interest in artwork being sold.

“Because there’s no statute, there’s no basis for a complaint. Unless these transactions constitute egregious fraud that would be covered under federal contract law, there’s nowhere for people to complain to,” Keller said.

The Albuquerque Democrat said his bill is a response to reports of questionable auction practices that distort prices for expensive pieces of art, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

“Usually $10,000 and over – fine art – those are the concerns I’m hearing about,” Keller said.

David Clemmer, a former auction house director and now a curator at a Santa Fe gallery, said Keller’s bill could be considered onerous by the businesses involved.

Auction houses probably won’t want to disclose pricing details or any financial interests in artwork they are selling, Clemmer said.

“There’s a certain amount of theatricality involved in auctions, no doubt about it. But that’s part of why people go to auctions,” Clemmer said.

Keller said the bill’s disclosure elements get to the heart of the specific complaints that have come to his attention.

He would not identify the people whose complaints prompted him to introduce the legislation, except to say that they were gallery owners and art investors.

“The fact that they feel they need to stay anonymous to me is another reason that we need the regulation,” Keller said. “Things are clearly bad enough and tense enough that they’re not even comfortable going public with it. Some of them are worried about retribution for the works that they need auction-house services to sell.”

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