Yesterday, the government opened its art vault to the highest bidder. Online auctioneers Gaston & Sheehan, on behalf of the U.S. Marshal Service, completed an auction of 245 works of art that have been forfeited to the government in the last few years after being seized during investigations of several convicted white-collar criminals. The sale was mostly made up of prints and lithographs from a range of different periods. In the event, the most popular proved to be the Old Masters works from the collection of Colorado Ponzi schemer Shawn Merriman, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for mail fraud in 2010. Several of Merriman's etchings by Rembrandt and Albrecht Durer fetched more than $100,000, with a very dark (meaning later in the series) version of "The Entombment" (1654) jumping from $40,000 to over $140,000 in the last 15 minutes of bidding to sell for $146,000. The auction house did not release pre-sale estimates.
So, is this a secret way for the aspiring art collector to get a deal? While ARTINFO had originally suggested that the works were going to be sold for bargain prices, that didn't turn out to be the case. There were many competitive bidders on the most coveted lots, with some works receiving more than 50 bids within the last few hours of the sale. That said, we compared the sale prices to similar print sales from the last year or two, and it seems that there were relative bargains to be had, particularly for the work of well-known contemporary artists like Ghada Amer and John Baldessari, who apparently have a following in the white-collar criminal community. We've gone ahead and surveyed our trusty auction data to tell you whether there wwere any deals in this cloud of criminal castoffs.
For a breakdown of the nine most interesting works sold at the auction — from sky-high prices to the bargain bin — click on the slide show.