Nov 30, 2011

TREND| Seedy Art Gallery Owners

Hans Gissinger, Larry Salander, 2008.
 I am a young up-and-coming painter, and have been looking towards exhibiting my work in galleries. My father turned in my direction during this Thanksgiving weekend to explain to me, "Catherine, there are perils of not having a trustworthy representative". In this treasured discussion he brought up the lucrative names of Andrew Crispo, Larry Salander, and Charles Saatchi. Each man bringing a different aspect to the trend of seedy gallery owner; Crispo brings the element of mafia, Salander hauls his massive debt, and Saatchi is a gambler. Thus begins my research of these seedy men and each man's mistakes in trampling the art scene.

Starting with the mafia-esque Andrew Crispo, the ultimate tabloid honey, bad-boy, sadomasochist art dealer. The gallery was very sucessful and published a number of books, 92 to be exact. He owned a prominent gallery on 57th St. in New York City in the fast paced 80's. The Andrew Crispo Gallery was very successful, the establishment published a number of books (92 to be exact) and graced the world with the works of many artists. In 1985, Crispo was (supposedly) involved with the Death Mask Murder case, a disgusting ordeal in which Mr. Crispo ordered his assistant to shoot Eigil Dag Vesti and to burn the body in Crispo's Hamptons home. He also threatened to kidnap his lawyer's child, which got Crispo into a legal pickle. His heinous acts were not towards the artist or the art work, but how could an artist trust such a sinister character? I would revoke my art from his holdings!!

Charles Saatchi

The next play boy of the art world that my wise father warned me about is the Iraqi-Jew, Charles Saatchi. The seemingly arrogant-daydreamer connoisseur of selling young artist's work to the London and international market, quickly stocks, stashes (or sits in warehouses) and sells the work. My father was telling me of Saatchi's creation of Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons' fame through his early discovery and funding of the two artists. He also has a TV show on the BBC2 by the title School of Saatchi, in which his team (he never appears in the show) finds the next up-coming artist to join in his gallery through a series of timed art creating sessions. The beef with Saatchi lays with the artist Sandro Chai, who he quickly sold all his available works to the public, the horrific flooding. Then Saatchi threatened Hirst with dumping a large quantity of his work on the market, in order for Hirst and his current gallery to buy back the art at over inflated prices. Artists seem to be terrified of confronting the powers of Saatchi and his say of what is good in the art world. If a gallery owner performed such a maneuver on me, I would cry to my father and he would surely take care of the matter...

My personal favorite naughty dealer is Larry Salander and his The Producers type scheme. His most popular victim was Robert De Niro, Mr. De Niro had trusted his father's estate to the Salander-O'Reilly gallery. The two had developed a friendship (according to De Niro) and supposedly Salander arranged shows for De Niro's collection internationally. Salander scamed De Niro and lototed the sales (a stroke of genius), resulting in a publicized court case and jail time for Salander. Additionally the gallery director stole $77,000 alone from the De Niro commission. His gallery declared bankruptcy in 2007, and in 2009 Salander pleaded guilty to $120 million in fraud. His great cheeky trick was selling and collecting payments on paintings without distributing monies to the artists or owners. He told his staff not to alert his clients of any sales that took place, displacing pieces of art and greedily collecting money. Finally this scheme synthesized many, many traumatized artists and owners who potentially lost both the piece of art work and the sum of money owed to them. The difference between Salander's case from those of Saatchi and Crispo is that the artist and patrons have a willingness to prosecute against the wrong doers of the art world.

I feel wiser after dissecting this terrible trend in the business side of art dealing. I have good faith that my potential representative will be a ethical, or i'll refuse to call her my dearest adoptive aunt.

- Catherine E. Rigdon


  1. I'm glad you wrote this! I'm not sure I would have thought about this sort of thing. Really interesting, but unfortunate that it has happened enough to be considered a trend.

    Courtney Rodrigues

  2. I have to say that this was by far one of the more entertaining and funnier blog entries.
    On a serious note, the business of art is seedy in general. Businesses (and this happens a lot in Austin) will display an artists work without any payment toward the artist: instead the business acts like the privilege of free wall space is enough compensation (when, in actuality, they are receiving free interior decoration); some "galleries" are actually just spaces that rent out to artists, then showcase those "resident" artists during exhibitions, and these exhibitions don't bring in any money from the outside...rather, they serve to bring in wine thirsty crowds looking for trendy places to socialize (and the property owner is getting paid nice sums of rent by the "resident artists" who proudly present their work to nobody actually interested in buying). The worst are businesses that have no business or experience with professional artists and try and take advantage of artists who have not made a name for themselves: this is often the case in small businesses. This happened to me a few years ago at a private doctor's office: a staff member saw a painting I did for a mutual friend and called me up asking if I'd be interested in wall space for a customized painting. So I spoke with him and, based on a few criteria the doctor and the staff had in regards to what they were looking for aesthetically, I created a painting for them to hang in their waiting room. When I presented it to them, they hated it and wanted me to do another painting...of course I hadn't been compensated for the original painting, so I took it and declined their offer and moved along. It was my first lesson in how the business of art has nothing to do with art.
    Seedy indeed.

    ---Jonathan Peters

  3. And just a quick add on: Recently in Austin a company(I forget the name,Reagan Outdoor Advertising, I think... but a google search should bring it up) offered up a competition to artists where the winner's art would be displayed on giant billboards in Austin. The artwork, under the guidelines of the business, could be moved any time at the businesses discretion; plus there wasn't a payment for the artist: again, free wall space (in this case, billboard space).
    I was driving down Burnet Rd. (I think it was Burnet) one day and saw one of these billboards: it was impossible to tell what the artwork actually had been flattened out and didn't have any context at all. It was really unflattering...and it had the artist's name in big letters on the corner. If that had been me, I would have been appalled to have my work so distorted. It was negative advertisement...who would buy artwork that looked so bland and unattractive. What are these artists thinking? Why would they believe that a giant billboard would make their artwork look attractive?
    What's important to know is that the initial artwork couldn't be any larger than 6"X24" (very small), yet was going to be blown up to huge proportions (and thus completely distorting the artwork); the artists were not getting paid; and Austin Visual Arts Association, a long standing artist community in Austin with quite a bit of reputation, actually supported the project.
    Again: this was a business that was profiting off free art work...and the community that is supposed to help protect artists failed them tremendously.

  4. I want to say something about art dealers and their gallery's not being trusted and this is what is wrong with the art world, but like you said in the beginning it's people like these that trample the art scene. I guess no matter where you go there is always going to be someone trying to scam someone else no matter what the profession. So I guess in a sense some artists need the gallery's. It's only a shame that they would be in danger of this.

    -John Hall

  5. It is interesting to know about these people and about the art world, but I have a few very contrary and probably controversial opinions on some things said here:
    "His heinous acts were not towards the artist or the art work, but how could an artist trust such a sinister character? I would revoke my art from his holdings!" - You put your life in the hands of sinister (or perpetually sinistter) people every day, in every situation you come across. We live in a world where the cheaters, liars and crooks make it to the top--they call it "dog eat dog". Things like bankers, right now, are the most shining example of this - bankers are greedy, skeezy, and generally just bastards. The banks aren't really regulated that much and the investors are free to do whatever they like with the money they have. They are like Bond villains, pretty much - you would have to have a heart of lead to foreclose on homes that don't even belong to you just so your company can turn a profit. Even in light of these facts, with the exception of the OWS movement, you don't see people running to the banks to revoke their money from them.

    "When I presented it to them, they hated it and wanted me to do another painting...of course I hadn't been compensated for the original painting" - While I can sympathize with this situation (being broke as shit), it is, in a way, ridiculous. When you order food at a restaurant and you receive something that is not what you ordered and you send it back, you don't pay for the thing that you sent back - the restaurant has to just deal with it even though they aren't able to reuse the food, and they aren't going to send you out and say "Oh well we didn't want you to eat here anyway".

    "Again: this was a business that was profiting off free art work" As depressing as it is, artists seem to get trampled on a lot. Maybe it is because when I signed up for art school I just had low-art goals like animation (like that isn't really a lofty target job-wise anyway) rather than trying to be a hot-shot gallery artist but it is strange to me that people are thinking artists have all this clout.

    It seems to me that the art world in particular is one where you can be simultaneously be doing really well for yourself and also at the very cusp of failure and losing it all-- and I think this, combined with the fact that outside of the art world artists are seen kind of as losers who contribute nothing and decided a degree in their favorite hobby is a good idea, is the reason the art world brings this type of person to the other side of the table. You've got obsessive gamblers, mafioso, and failed, now-massively-debted gamblers who just can't give up the pony that are funding the arts because now, at least in late-modern/post-modern art, it seems like a relatively risky trade with a high price tag attached and you have to navigate and be careful in maneuvering through the art market or you could lose a lot. (It would be interesting to know what people look for, if there is any definitive list, when buying art. I know of reflection, shininess, probably controversy, I think Kinkade is popular because people want to escape into a painting, but I am sure there are loads more.)

    I have some thoughts on ideas of censorship dealing with some of the things you all have said, but for the sake of brevity (This is probably a blog post on its own), I will just say that even though we live in a world that is "uncensored," you still have to censor yourself. There is still a lot of censorship everywhere, and you cant just do what you want. To me, it seems there is a line between what you can and want to do versus what you should or have to do.

    - Eric Gustafson

  6. Eric,
    Your analogy of the restaurant to the quote you took from my comment doesn't make a lick of sense.

    "When I presented it to them, they hated it and wanted me to do another painting...of course I hadn't been compensated for the original painting"

    I don't give away my art. It is the product I produce. When this happened to me (the above quote), I did not understand this to be true. I am an artist in the business of making and selling art. When I am making art, I am not a business person. When I sell it, I am doing so for profit and am therefore in the business of art.

    I was commissioned to do a painting that was given a few guidelines: they did not accept what I had made. Had I been smarter at the time, I would have made a written contract for monetary value. This is how the actual art business works: experienced artists don't make art for a business without either A) getting paid in advance or B) having a contract or C) having a legal representative. Most of the time, it's a combination of the three. Artists trying to make profit are business people, and it is absurd to think that artists shouldn't get paid for their work. That's not how business works. And this is why I am more savvy and more successful as an artist: I don't let the romantic ideology of ARTIST get in the way that this is a business.

    As for "thinking artists have all this clout"...that's the point: we don't. That's why these types of situations happen. That's why most artists that are successful are really well connected with other artists and have legal representation and public relations staff. There isn't a labor union for's not like being a teacher in Texas, where the union (in a perfect world) represents teachers across the state in order to guarantee better/fair wages, jobs...

    Lastly, what is "lowly" about wanting to be in animation instead of a "hot shot" gallery artist? What does that even mean?

  7. Dear Eric,

    In response to your comment comparing the "heinous acts" of Andrew Crispo to people not running to their banks and asking for their money to be safe from the bad guy bankers; International Credit Union Day. On October 20th, 2011 thousands demanded their money from those crooked bankers, and many do everyday. If I could hyperlink on a comment I would, but here is a delightful scene of people wanting their money back from Mary Poppins:


    Catherine Rigdon

  8. Im so glad you mentioned Charles Saatchi! I knew when Damien Hirst was by passing the galleries and Saatchi to sell his work directly to auction houses problems started arising. What I enjoy is know Hirst is still bypassing him after all of that and still making a ridiculous killing with all his new art. Him bypassing them has been good news to artists everywhere, that we don't need galleries forever and we can make our money from our hard work without splitting half of it with someone.

    - Erin Davis

  9. Wow, this was fascinating. I think you would really enjoy Steve Martin's book, An Object of Beauty. There are a few scandals in there that you would find interesting.

    - Krista Quiroga