Not long ago a Japanese man decided to consign to auction his substantial collection of Impressionist and Modern art. Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the world’s two major auction houses, were consulted; each put together a sumptuous proposal detailing their expertise, their marketing plans and their generous terms of business. They were so similar, however, that the man couldn’t decide between them. So he called the head of each company’s Japanese branch into his office and asked that they settle the matter with a game of Paper, Scissors, Stone. Christie’s won.
It’s scarcely believable. But then, so much of what happens in the ghastly, fragrant, perfidious, endlessly compelling place known as the art world leaves one feeling incredulous (not least the sums of money involved). Philip Hook’s new book, an ‘A–Z of the art world’, is full of such stories, all gleaned from Hook’s many years in the business: he has been a director of both Christie’s and Sotheby’s, as well as an independent art dealer and, until 2003, a regular on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. He writes self-deprecatingly about his experiences – one punter on the Roadshow tricked him with a fake Dutch landscape by ‘Hertz van Rental’ – and conveys his