Rod Menzies, Melbourne’s multi-millionaire cleaning magnate and art saleroom supremo, has taken a remarkably conciliatory line today to attacks on the way he runs his Menzies Art Brands auction houses.

After enduring a Four Corners savaging last month, on-going critical reporting in the media, and the threat of an investigation by the ACCC, Menzies has acted to address the crucial issues in the complaints made against him. These focused on the way paintings he owned or was part-owner of had been presented in his catalogues and the price guarantees he offered sellers of top-quality pictures to attract their custom.

The attack on Menzies and his Deutscher-Menzies and Lawson-Menzies auction houses was initiated by arch-rival Tim Goodman who heads Bonhams & Goodman. The Sydney auctioneer was one of five signatories who lodged a complaint with the ACCC accusing Menzies of misleading conduct.

During the Four Corners program and later in The Age, Melbourne University PhD student Meaghan Wilson-Anastasios said that if the accusations made against Menzies were true, the allegations would have “dramatically inflated the Australian art market”.

Although Menzies gave every indication following the Four Corners program he would take legal action against the ABC and any dealers, auctioneers or news outlets that made defamatory claims against his company, he put out a release this morning that effectively accepts the criticisms.

He said the catalogue for next month’s art sale would be amended “to remove perceived inconsistencies and conjecture relating to Interest, and Guarantees, and to update the information and conditions of sale for our highly valued buyers and sellers”.

The catalogue changes include indicating that some paintings “may be owned wholly or in part by Menzies Art Brands or the Principal of Menzies Art Brands”, advising that some pictures may be subject to a guaranteed minimum price for the seller, and an updating of conditions “including those relating to reserves, provenance, warranties and privacy of information”.

The catalogue would no longer carry symbols “designating interest and guarantee in light of the notices now included in the catalogue in order to avoid the risk that the designation might be inadvertently overlooked”.

“All of us can learn about what we could do better or differently and the actions described above takes [sic]into account the significant professional advice that I have received in relation to the Four Corners program, the media and comments by competitors who themselves operate in many different ways,” Menzies said.

Today’s press release may reflect Menzies’ realisation that Australia’s long art auction boom is about to end and that this no time to alienate or frighten his customers. But, for a tough, sharp-minded businessman who has proved to be a formidable competitor in using his auction houses to knock Sotheby’s off the top spot as Australia’s biggest saleroom, the release is some mea culpa.

Peter Fray

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