NEW YORK—Los Angeles dealer Douglas J. Chrismas, 62, was sued on May 15 by sculptor Jannis Kounellis in Los Angeles State Superior Court. In his suit the Greek-born artist, who presently resides in Rome, claims that Chrismas, who is owner and director of Ace Gallery, Los Angeles, failed to pay him for sales of his work and also refused to return unsold pieces. The lawsuit charges breach of contract.
As ARTnewsletter went to press, there had been no response to the legal complaint, according to Ricardo Cestero, the attorney representing Kounellis. At the same time Chrismas was unavailable for comment.
In the 1990s, the complaint states, Chrismas invited Kounellis to exhibit his sculpture at Ace Gallery; and, beginning in 1997, the artist consigned to the dealer dozens of pieces valued at a total of $4 million, with a 50 percent commission to be paid to the gallery. The agreement between the artist and the dealer was verbal, Cestero says.
From then until March 6 of this year, when Kounellis demanded, in writing, the return of all his works from the gallery, the artist received what was described in the lawsuit as “one modest payment . . . without any accounting for what art was sold, the revenues generated or any costs expended. . . .”
Cestero told ARTnewsletter, “We’ve added a fraud claim, given the dealer’s pattern of doing the same thing to other people.” The suit asks the courts for a return of the artist’s work, an injunction on all further sales of Kounellis’ work by Chrismas, court costs, $4 million in actual damages and $20 million in punitive damages in order to “deter such conduct in the future.”
According to cases cited in the complaint by Kounellis, in 1981 painter Leon Polk Smith sued to recover $39,000 in damages for artwork consigned to Chrismas; subsequently he was awarded a lien on one of the dealer’s properties after Chrismas declared bankruptcy. Robert Rauschenberg, sued Chrismas in 1983, winning a $140,000 judgment the following year, the complaint states.