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Bidding Wars: Go Ask Alice

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Just as disgraced Sotheby's and Christie's are contending with the machinations of Phillips and its new multi-billionaire owner, Bernard Arnault, a new rival has sprung up. Alice, a new, boutique-size auction firm, is the invention of Francis Simon, the former chief financial officer of Sotheby's in Paris. Given the scandal surrounding his erstwhile employer, Simon is understandably trumpeting the new company's mandate: "Alice is very strongly committed to being ethical," Simon says, noting that Alice is an acronym for authenticity, legality, integrity, credibility, and excellence. To help uphold those splendid virtues, the firm has appointed HSBC Bank as an independent trustee to oversee its fiscal activities. Alice will hold its inaugural sale on November 14 at Park Avenue's Peterson Hall, also the site of a preview exhibition that begins November 10. The firm's slender initial offering of nineteen works -- which range from an 1855 Degas drawing to a 1985 Basquiat painting and include Picasso's Au Moulin Rouge (La Fille du Roi d'Egypte), pictured -- is in keeping with Alice's decision to specialize in the famously lucrative fields of nineteenth- and twentieth-century fine arts. Alice will have no permanent salesrooms and only ten full-time employees, and buyers will pay a flat 10 percent commission, as opposed to the complex sliding fees of the established houses. It's an idea whose time may have come -- just so long as collectors are impressed by the first auction's results.


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