The Art Auctioneer: Duties and Assumptions

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The sale of unique art objects at auction has changed dramatically over the past thirty years. Auction houses have grown from wholesale suppliers for art dealers to huge, multinational concerns that market art directly to the public. As the character of auction houses has changed, the traditional agency and sales rules governing auctions have become increasingly inadequate. In this article, I address the societal assumptions underlying the rules that govern auctioneers, then describe the current legal duties of auctioneers as agents and sellers in the marketplace. Based on criticisms of the current rules governing auctioneers, I propose a model code of conduct for auctioneers based on underlying assumptions about the role of auctioneers in the market for art.