NEW YORK—A spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office told ARTnewsletter it has received a complaint against New York art dealer Lawrence Salander and Salander-O’Reilly Galleries. She declined to elaborate on the matter. Meanwhile, several new civil lawsuits were filed against the dealer and his gallery in recent weeks (ANL, 10/2/07, pp. 6-8), adding to some 15 reported claims. Salander did not return calls from ARTnewsletter seeking comment.
On Oct. 3, Wellington, Fla.-based collector Carol F. Cohen filed suit in New York State Supreme Court against Salander and the gallery (referred to as SOG in the complaint), alleging fraud and theft of approximately $3.5 million worth of artworks that had been sent to the gallery for storage earlier this year. The suit seeks up to $7.2 million, including punitive damages.
Earlier this year, after Cohen decided to liquidate a portion of her art collection, Salander offered to store certain artworks for her, the complaint contends: “Cohen agreed to this proposal, which seemed reasonable to her given her past experience in having other art galleries temporarily store her art.” At that time, the suit notes, Cohen knew of Salander-O’Reilly as “a well-respected, significant art gallery.”
Unlike many of the other litigants suing Salander and the gallery to date, Cohen and the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries had no consignment agreement, her complaint states.
“Despite that Cohen expressly refused to sign the [consignment agreement] letter, Salander and SOG began selling Cohen’s artwork. Salander and SOG made these false representations to induce Cohen to give them custody of the artwork, so that they could sell it behind her back and convert the money from the proceeds from the sale,” court documents state.
In mid-September, after Cohen’s attorney contacted the gallery, the complaint alleges, the gallery’s chief financial officer “admitted the fact of the fraud and theft . . . stating that SOG had sold Cohen’s paintings ‘early in the year and at one time had the cash in its custody, but no longer has the money.’” Cohen and her attorney Daniel Mielnicki, of Berger Singerman, Boca Raton, Fla., told ARTnewsletter that a complaint on Cohen’s behalf has been filed with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Estate of Kenneth Thomson Sues
On Oct. 2 Thomson Works of Art Limited, Toronto, which represents the estate of the late Kenneth R. Thomson, a Canadian billionaire and art collector, sued Salander and the gallery for $3.1 million plus interest. The suit centers on an oil painting, Pirates of the Plains, by Western artist Charles M. Russell.
Thomson, who had acquired the work in 1982, asked Salander in July 2003 to assess the market for the painting, according to court documents. Soon after, Salander advised Thomson that he had found a potential buyer and asked Thomson to send the painting to him in New York, the complaint says, noting that Thomson did so in late July 2003. Salander and Thomson agreed that the dealer would sell the painting on Thomson’s behalf for about $6 million and was authorized to settle for a low figure of $5.5 million.
In late August 2003, the documents state, Salander told Thomson he had accepted an offer of $5.6 million, which would be paid in two installments: $2 million on Sept. 30, 2003, with the balance owed to be paid by December of that year. The identity of the buyer was not disclosed to Thomson, the suit asserts.
Salander made two payments to Thomson—$2 million in December 2003, and $500,000, “a portion of the second installment,” in Feb. 2004, the filings state. “Neither Thomson nor his estate has received the balance of the second installment of the purchase price. From time to time, before he died, Thomson demanded that Salander collect from [the buyer] and remit to Thomson the balance of the purchase price . . . or identify the buyer,” the suit states.
It further says that Salander refused to identify the buyer, claiming that the buyer had “refused to pay the outstanding balance because of a dispute over Thomson’s right to sell the painting.”
Italian Gallery Files Suit
On Oct. 1 Milan gallery Nella Longari, seeking $1 million plus interest and legal costs, filed suit in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York.
The dispute centers on several pieces described as “European artworks” that are “one of a kind,” the suit states (including a work from the 14th century), and were sold to Salander on consignment in 2005.
It is charged that Salander was offered the option to purchase any or all of the artworks, and the parties agreed that title to the works would pass to Salander upon payment to Longari.
Plaintiff Mario Longari alleges that after several attempts to recover either the works or the funds, he was given several postdated checks by Salander. One of these, for $450,000, the suit maintains, was ultimately canceled owing to a stop-payment order placed on it. Longari estimates the total value and price of the works at about €775,000 ($1.1 million). “To date,” his suit says, “this amount remains outstanding and overdue. Defendants have absconded the artworks.”
According to court papers, however, one day after the suit was filed, “defendants . . . offered to stipulate that the . . . artworks be sold at the October 3, 2007, Sotheby’s auction,” with proceeds or the unsold artworks returned to the plaintiff’s attorney, in lieu of Longari proceeding with his lawsuit. Through his New York-based attorney, Francesco Di Pietro, of Wuersch & Gering, L.L.P., Longari agreed to the deal, the court papers state. The lots offered at Sotheby’s included a 14th-century North Italian painted wood figure estimated at $40,000/60,000. According to Sotheby’s website, the work did not sell.
The second lot, a pair of North Italian painted wood figures of male saints, was estimated at $5,000/7,000 and sold under its estimate for $4,375, including premium, Sotheby’s reports. Longori’s attorney did not return an ARTnewsletter call seeking comment.