Richard L. Brodsky said he knew his efforts as a New York State assemblyman in the 1990s to regulate the sale of art in the state further would draw yawns from fellow legislators. Many viewed the art world, he said, as a foreign place inhabited by wealthy people with little need for protection.
But Mr. Brodsky, a Westchester Democrat, said the public's interest in fair and orderly markets was at stake. And if prices were artificially inflated, he said, taxpayer-supported institutions like museums could find themselves unable to afford important works.
So in 1991 he introduced a bill to ban chandelier bidding. Gallery owners had complained about the practice for years. But while the city had made other changes in the law, it had stopped short of banning such bids.
"I don't think it's unreasonable, given the clientele and players, to have that little bit of theater," Mr. Aponte, the consumer affairs commissioner, had said in 1986 during an earlier debate.
Mr. Feigen, the art dealer, said in later hearings that he did not find that argument compelling.
"If I want drama, I'll go to Broadway," he said, "not to a financial market."
Under the law in New York City and other places, auctioneers may make up bids at the beginning of a sale as long as they stop announcing such bids before the auctioneer reaches the undisclosed reserve, the minimum amount the consignor will accept.
Auctioneers say chandelier bidding (they prefer the term "consecutive bidding") is necessary to keep the reserve secret and protect the seller. Without it, they say, bidding might end up starting at the reserve, since that is the minimum a seller will accept, and thus telegraph what it is. They liken it to real estate transactions in which sellers do not reveal the minimum amount they will accept so as to retain negotiating leverage.
City law requires auction houses to disclose in their catalogs and on a salesroom sign that such bidding may take place. The practice is also mentioned during the rapid recitation of auction rules before a sale.
But Mr. Plummer, the art adviser, said he had accompanied prospective buyers to auctions who were unaware of the practice. "It is absolutely not correct," he said, "to assume that all participants in an auction are seasoned insiders who understand the nuances of chandelier bidding."
Under the bill Mr. Brodsky introduced an auctioneer would have to make plain a fake bid by saying it was "for the consignor" as in, "I have $1 million for the consignor."
The consumer affairs agency backed the bill. At hearings Richard Schrader, its deputy commissioner, testified that chandelier bidding may inflate prices by snaring "unwitting bidders into thinking that they are competing with other potential purchasers."
Auction houses argued, though, that the existing regulations in New York City were sufficient. Christie's and Sotheby's hired Stanley Fink, a powerful former Assembly speaker, to lobby on their behalf. "He was ferocious in support of his clients and his presence was meaningful," Mr. Schrader recalled.
When Mr. Brodsky's bill failed, he reintroduced it, session after session. The first eight bills never made it out of the Assembly. On his ninth try, in 2007, the bill got through the Assembly, but died in the Senate.
Mr. Brodsky said city officials seldom supported the legislation, a charge consumer affairs officials denied. In a statement the agency said it had "no record of former Assembly member Brodsky requesting changes in enforcement practices or oversight to address the changing face of the auction industry."
Mr. Brodsky said: "I have had continuing and unsatisfactory communication with New York City on this matter for 15 years. I cannot speak to the adequacy of their record keeping."
In 2008 Mr. Brodsky toned down the bill in ways that extended the city's auction regulations to the entire state but effectively left the practice of chandelier bidding unchanged.
He said he decided a softened bill was better than no bill at all. "I can't get everything I want but I can make this part of the public policy dialogue," he said. "And I did."
The auction houses, pleased with the changes, sent a memo of support, and in 2010 the Legislature passed the amended bill.
But it would not become law. Gov. David A. Paterson vetoed the bill, citing concerns that counties had no way to enforce it.
The legislation lives on today, albeit in its weaker form. Its Senate sponsor, Daniel L. Squadron of Manhattan, says it still has value. Beyond extending the reach of the city law, the proposal would empower the state attorney general to enforce auction violations and provide additional grounds on which bidders might sue.
Senator Squadron said he had not lost hope that the legislation might pass. (Last fall the state did strengthen the law that protects artists and owners who consign their work to galleries.)
"The need to trust the credibility of an auction is as real a need as it was 20 years ago," Senator Squadron said.
Last year, though, his bill never made it out of committee.