Comedian Adam Conover calls out the Art World

Conover’s thrust is that the art market is hopelessly corrupt, and manipulated by a tiny cabal of oily back-room wheeler-dealers who not only determine the price of art and rig the system to enrich themselves—they also define “what art is.”

Is the art market no more than a playground for snobs and crooks? The comedian Adam Conover certainly thinks so. He makes the case in a five-minute video released yesterday as the latest in his web series “Adam Ruins Everything.” The segment, dripping with a Morley Safer-worthy level of contempt for the art world, has already exceeded one million views.

1. Big Galleries Keep Prices Secret So They Can Change Them Depending on Who the Buyer Is.

Businesses in New York—including art galleries—are required by law to “conspicuously display” prices for their goods. In fact, hardly any Gotham galleries do so, though lawmakers have tried to crack down on this. That said, some galleries are open about money and will post, or at least disclose, prices when asked. (Still, many inflate the sticker price by 20 percent and then knock it down to make the buyer feel he or she is getting a deal.)

2. Galleries Discriminate Against Novice Collectors… Like Poor Little Harry Potter.

3. Auction Bidding Is All a Lie, Because Major Auction Houses “Straight-Up Pay People to Bid” and Auctioneers Call Out Fake “Chandelier Bids.”

That said, the practice of “chandelier bidding,” in which an auctioneer calls out fake bids during a live sale, is very much real. As an auctioneer inches closer to the minimum price for which a seller has agreed to part with a work (known as a “reserve”), he may point to invisible eager bidders in the back of the room. It’s all part of an effort to foster drama and conceal the true reserve price, which auction houses say helps the consignor get the best possible outcome.

4. Auction Houses Are a Great Place for Crooks to Defraud the Government and Launder Dirty Money.

Two art dealers conspire to get rich off a hot dog-eating artist's "condiment-based" work. Photo via YouTube.

Two art dealers conspire to get rich off a hot dog-eating artist’s “condiment-based” work. Photo via YouTube.

5. You Can Buy Art on the Street That’s Just as Good as What You Could Buy in a Gallery. But Those Artists “Aren’t Allowed to Succeed.”


Comedian Adam Conover Says the Art Market Is a Scam. Here’s What He Gets Right—and Wrong.

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