Artists Fight to Get Works Back from Ace Gallery by Jori Finkel
April 20, 2016
LOS ANGELES — Lawsuits by artists and collectors, seeking the return of consigned works, demanding profits, or both, have never stopped Douglas Chrismas, the founder of Ace Gallery, from doing business. An early champion of trailblazers like Robert Irwin, Richard Serra and Michael Heizer, Mr. Chrismas has spent nearly 50 years helping to start or jump-start the careers of artists here, even as he was scrutinized for sometimes failing to pay when works sold.
But on April 6, Mr. Chrismas lost the keys to his gallery, after failing to make a $17.5 million court-ordered payment to settle his debts in a long-running Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. Sam Leslie, a bankruptcy trustee, took over as what he calls a “de facto C.E.O. of the reorganized business,” which includes a 30,000-square-foot mega-gallery in a historic Art Deco building in the mid-Wilshire district, and a space in Beverly Hills.
De Wain Valentine is one of a handful of artists who filed claims during the bankruptcy case, seeking back payments or return of artwork, bringing to light the sort of artist-dealer disputes that often remain behind closed doors...
He is seeking the return of eight early, experimental sculptures, made in resin or acrylic, consigned to Ace in 2010 to 2012. The group includes a study for his monumental “Gray Column” sculpture once featured at the Getty Museum. His claim placed their value at around $1.45 million.
“The artworks are not on display at the gallery,” said Mr. Valentine’s lawyer, Gregory Salvato, “so we don’t even know for sure whether they’ve been sold or if they’re in storage.”
Asked in an interview last week why he had not returned the eight artworks, Mr. Chrismas said, “It’s complex because we believe De Wain owes the gallery a large chunk of money.”
Mr. Salvato responded, “We have absolutely no idea what he is talking about.” Mr. Valentine said, “He’s never advanced me any money.”