Wednesday, July 16, 2008


There's a lengthy article in today's New York Times on complaints against Park West Gallery, which conducts art auctions on cruise ships. It reportedly does more than $300 million in annual revenue (on sales of nearly 300,000 artworks a year) and calls itself “the world’s largest art dealer.” "Yet," reports the Times, "some Park West customers say they did not get what they bargained for. ... In April a Florida resident and a California resident filed class action lawsuits against Park West that could potentially cover tens of thousands of residents of those states. They have accused the company of misrepresenting the value of its artwork and are seeking unspecified damages for unfair trade practices, breach of contract and unjust enrichment."

Separate and apart from those suits, Park West has brought a defamation suit against the founder of the Fine Art Registry, its lead writer, and Bruce Hochman, a Dalí specialist that they've quoted. "Park West’s suit against Fine Art Registry revolves in part around the Web site’s allegations that the company’s Dalí prints are inauthentic. The suit quotes, for example, a Fine Art Registry interview in which Mr. Hochman said of the signatures on these pieces: 'They’re all the same. And we feel they’re done with an auto pencil device.'" (I recently mentioned another lawsuit, or threatened lawsuit, against Fine Art Registry here.)

The Art Market Monitor sees "a fascinating glimpse of what happens when you convince people that art is an investment and they should buy without having done their research." Walter Olson notes that "as so often proves to be the case when a business reacts to criticism by suing its critics, the suit has if anything stimulated further press curiosity about the business’s practices."

Related story from 2006 here.

UPDATE: Tyler Cowen sums it up in seven words: "Do not buy art on cruise ships." A few more: "The bottom line is that you should never spend more than $1500 on art unless you know at least roughly what it is worth at auction. One of life's good rules of thumb."