"I don't own the company yet, so it's not fair for me to be paraded as the new owner," said A. Alfred Taubman at a gala party held here tonight to celebrate Sotheby Parke Bernet's 100th anniversary in New York.

Earlier in the day, the British government had cleared the way for Taubman to acquire Sotheby's, the world's largest art auction house. Taubman and his wife, Judy were the center of attention as more than 1,000 guests crowded into the ultramodern Sotheby's headquarters here for a glimpse of the coming attractions, a drink or two, and nibbles of caviar, salmon mousse and cheese balls.

Graham Llewellyn, chief executive officer of the London-based company, led the Taubmans through an exhibition of myriad objects ranging from Navajo blankets to a rare Gauguin landscape.

The Sotheby's staff didn't hesitate to talk about the Taubmans, speculating on the kind of art he collects and what directions the company would take under his leadership.

"There will be a lot of money behind Sotheby's soon," said one lawyer for the firm, who asked not to be identified. "Who knows--Sotheby's tennis shirts, shorts. Why not?"

Taubman, who tried to fend off photographers during the gala, has only 10 days to secure control of the firm. Tonight, David Nash, head of the firm's enormously profitable painting department and a sizable shareholder, acknowledged what others may be thinking. "I'm waiting until the last minute," he said, "before I sell my shares."

Was it a coincidence that the party was held the day of the commission's decision?

"We cannot coordinate the British secretary of state's decision to coincide with our parties," said the Julian Thompson, president of Sotheby Park Bernet Group p.l.c..

What's the real advantage of the takeover?

"We will be a privately owned company once again," intoned Sotheby's official Robert Wooley while nibbling a soggy cheese ball.