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Nov. 8, 2010, 3:11 p.m. EST

Art of the Auction: Lost in Translation?

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Edited by Robin Goldwyn Blumenthal

Review | Dates to Watch For | Follow-Up | U.S. Economic Calendar | Consensus Estimates | Coming Earnings | Coming U.S. Auctions

WHAT WE HAVE HERE is a lot of money and a failure to communicate. The new money from the developing world has brought with it some unorthodox customs, even as it has buoyed recent art auctions.

For instance, some of the emerging-market collectors have been known to buy and then walk away, or refuse to pay. Some assume that an auction represents the start of negotiations rather than their conclusion.

Aileen Agopian, director of contemporary art sales at Phillips de Pury, noted that despite published rules requiring payment within 30 days of an auction, she has seen winning bidders from the developing world "ask for payment terms, stretching out over weeks or months at times." The auction house doesn't really like bending rules, and though it "wouldn't want to do it a lot," accommodating this crop of new buyers has forced Phillips de Pury and others in the art trade to become more "flexible."

Christie's will see just how flexible at its sale of contemporary art Thursday and Friday.

Art-gallery owners are facing the same thing. "One out of every three 'sales' we make doesn't take place," says Adam Sheffer, an owner of New York's Cheim & Read contemporary art gallery. That's because a collector may agree to purchase a specific work but never send the money to pay for it.

Still, he realizes that "you can't do business in another culture the way you do it here." And, he adds, "in a down market, you don't turn down business."

—Daniel Grant

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