Five Years Aprés le Sotheby’s-vs.-Christie’s Scandale

Former Sotheby's chairman Al Taubman and former Guinness PLC chairman Anthony Tennant.Photo: From left, Neil Rasmus/Patrick McMullan; Alastair Grant/AP Photo

Ever since they were founded in London in the 1700s, Sotheby’s and Christie’s have been the Hulk Hogan and André the Giant of auction houses, battling for dominance in the sale of expensive, exquisite things. Then, in 2000, it was revealed that they’d been secretly cooperating to fix their prices. Five years ago this week, Sotheby’s chairman A. Alfred Taubman was sentenced to jail, but now he has a book out. The prosecution of the houses opened up the secretive, genteel business to the world. So where are the main characters of this drama today?

Anthony Tennant
Eton-educated, like virtually all the top brass at Christie’s, this former chairman of Guinness PLC was indicted along with Taubman. Federal prosecutors alleged that the two men talked pricing over their occasional breakfasts in London. But Tennant, who said no such thing ever happened, couldn’t be extradited to the U.S. for trial. His lucky loophole: Price-fixing isn’t a crime in the U.K.

A. Alfred Taubman
The 83-year-old mall billionaire did nine months in a federal prison, then retired to Palm Beach, where he wrote a memoir, Threshold Resistance, in which he claims he was framed. Surrounded by Donald Trump and Thomas Krens at his Four Seasons book party last week, Taubman still blamed Christie’s. “They were putting out a story that Sotheby’s was guilty and [Christie’s wasn’t]—and they started the thing!”

Patricia Hambrecht
Christie’s couture-fiend president and general counsel, she brokered a deal to get Bill Gates to pay $30 million for the Leonardo da Vinci Codex Leicester. She left unscathed from the fixing fuss, helping the Christie’s lawyers sort it out before heading to Harry Winston. Now she runs Jaspar LLC, which works with Citigroup to advise clients—including “Russians, Asians, and buyers from the Mideast”—on jewelry investments.

DeDe Brooks
The then-Sotheby’s CEO stepped down as a Yale trustee amid the affair, did her 1,000 hours of community service, and ended up as fund-raiser for the East Harlem School. Once the most powerful woman in the art world, after “flipping” on Taubman she faced six months of house arrest. With the ankle bracelet off, she’s free to golf near her Hobe Sound, Florida, mansion and has been spotted in auctions in New York, but as a customer.

Christopher Davidge
The preening ex-CEO of Christie’s earned the nickname “the Golden Hamster” among his employees and, later, in the British tabloids. Though he admitted to working out the details of the price-fixing scheme with Brooks, because he was first in the door to the Justice Department, he won immunity from prosecution. He got an $8 million severance package, married an expert in Southeast Asian art, and is speculating in contemporary Asian painting.

Tobias Meyer
Sotheby’s young contemporary-art expert was uninvolved in the scandal, and the firm dispensed its largesse on him to keep him aboard, enabling him and art-consultant partner Mark Fletcher to buy a $5 million Time Warner Center condo. He’s taken mentor Brooks’s place both at the rostrum and as the face of the house. Sotheby’s has “moved on from that difficult time,” he says, pointing to its sale of David Rockefeller’s Rothko (estimate: $40 million) next month.

François Pinault
This French billionaire and art collector bought Christie’s and took it private a decade ago for just over $1 billion. The investigation and fines took their toll, but today things are looking up in his life: On April 5, he won a battle against the Guggenheim for a coveted site in Venice across from the Piazza San Marco that both had wanted to develop as a contemporary-arts center. Also, Salma Hayek is pregnant with his son François-Henri’s baby.

Five Years Aprés le Sotheby’s-vs.-Christie […]