Sellers and auction houses have been holding their breath lately pending a decision by New York's highest court on the Jenack case with regards to the longstanding art market practice of seller's anonymity.
In an October 2012 decision by the New York Supreme Court it was held that auctioneers are required to disclose seller's identities in post-auction paperwork in order for the deal to become binding. Otherwise, the buyer could refuse to pay. This would have had serious repercussions for an auction industry where a great deal of sellers prefer to remain anonymous.
Thankfully, the art market was able to sigh in relief on Tuesday (17th December 2013) when the New York Court of Appeal reversed the prior decision and ruled that auction houses need not reveal a seller's name but it suffices for the auctioneer to be named as the seller's agent.
The effect of abolishing seller's anonymity in New York state would have been felt all over the world in the art industry. New York is one of the biggest auction hubs; depending on the work of art, sellers from any place in the world often consider it the best venue for a successful auction sale.
At the same time, anonymity is considered by many a must in art sales. It may at times be used to cloak the embarrassment of debt; or it can help sellers avoid family conflicts over the disposition of inherited debts. Anonymity also allows institutions to discreetly sell items they no longer need without having to give any public explanations. Or it may simply be prized as a matter of personal privacy.
Whichever the case, sellers of fine art you can rest assured: anonymity will continue to allow you to protect your privacy.
Phoebe Kouvelas is an attorney-at-law specializing in art law, offering legal and commercial advice on issues related to the acquisition, retention, lending and disposition of fine art.