Especially in current times of increasing inflation rates, ways of preserving funds for a longer term without having to fear a deterioration in value are strongly requested by investors. Indeed, emerging investment vehicles such as art funds confirm that investors increasingly push into alternative markets, also for reasons of risk diversification. One beneficiary of this trend is the art market. At the same time, a survey conducted by Deloitte biannually (most recent: Art & Finance Report 2021, Deloitte / ArtTactic, 7th ed., p. 286) evidences that the large majority of investors are aware of what continues to pose a threat to collectors and investors alike: the lack of transparency in the art market, which is strongly correlated to issues such as price manipulation and insider dealing.
Antitrust law may serve in various ways to regulate trade with art and promote transparency as well as stability in the market, thereby increasing trust also of potential investors. However, history has shown that antitrust law is scarcely applied in the ambit of art sales. During the past 40 years, only a small number of antitrust-related cases revolving around art have been brought to court and an even smaller number ended with an official verdict.
The research project aims to identify the reasons for this scarce application and enforcement of antitrust laws in the art world, which can mainly be divided into two strands: first, the application of antitrust law is based on certain rational market assumptions that can claim only limited validity in the art world, thus a one-to-one transfer of rules is quite often not a viable option; second, one of the core concepts in the art business world is discretion, which does not only make it more difficult for customers to trace sales, but also restrains supervising authorities in keeping track of connected transactions, prices and parties’ arrangements. This ambiance of secrecy in combination with a rather small, tight-knit group that forms an international network of clientele as well as dealers provide for an ideal environment for informal agreements and thus possibly for even more opportunities of market manipulation than in other environments, which highlights the necessity to subdue the art market to specific regulatory measures.