Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Salander Hail Mary? (UPDATED)

From page one of The New York Sun this morning:

"Two shows of paintings set to open to the public on Wednesday may make or break the legacy of both an Upper East Side art gallery known for its extensive Renaissance and Baroque art collection, Salander-O'Reilly, and its well-known owner, Lawrence Salander. Mr. Salander ... faces mounting legal trouble with as many as seven suits filed against him and the gallery in New York alone in the last two months and as many as 15 in the last year."

One of the shows includes a painting Salander is attributing to Caravaggio and hopes to sell for $100 million. One problem, however: "When the painting was last sold in 2001 at Sotheby's for $110,000, it was attributed to the 'Circle of Caravaggio.'"

The New Criterion's James Panero says the work has "a backstory worthy of a pulp novel":

"Clovis Whitfield bought this work in 2001 from Sotheby’s in London, where it was identified as 'Circle of Caravaggio.' Subsequent cleaning and analysis have led several experts to declare that this is in fact the work of the master himself. (Sotheby’s still disputes the revised attribution.) If so, it would be one of three versions of the same image now in circulation, with the most famous one in the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg and a second in the Wildenstein Collection. ... If it is indeed a Caravaggio, this painting will be the first one up for public sale in the United States in a century."

Back to the Sun, which has this summary of some of the existing litigation:

"Seven civil lawsuits have been filed in U.S. District Court in Manhattan and in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan in the last two months. The suits are similar in charging that Mr. Salander had co-purchased art works for his gallery with business partners, but the returns he promised to share with them from the sale of the works rarely materialized. ... On October 3, Bank of America filed a suit against the gallery for defaulting a promissory note for $2 million. On October 11, American Express Centurion Bank filed a suit against Mr. Salander and the gallery to recover nearly $700,000 in unpaid credit card charges made by the gallery and its principal. In August, an art collector and hedge fund manager, Roy Lennox, filed a suit against Mr. Salander for $14.6 million, for Mr. Salander's failure to repay his investments. A suit filed on October 1 calls for nearly $18 million from a woman who agreed to store part of her 'significant' art collection with Mr. Salander, according to the complaint, but before they could agree on a final contract for possible future sales, Mr. Salander had already sold some of the pieces."

The story also notes that "a spokeswoman with the Manhattan District Attorney's office ... said the office has received complaints that they are investigating, but no criminal charges have been filed."

UPDATE: More from Mario Naves in this week's New York Observer in a piece entitled "The Enron of the Art World?":

"A friend has long suggested that an Enron-like scandal has been in the offing for years .... Should the Salander situation deepen, the consequences for the art market could be huge. Skepticism about the reliability of dealers may send big money straight to auction houses, bypassing the gallery system. Lawsuits similar to those levied against Salander are, if not guaranteed, then not out of the question. Anyone believing that Salander-O’Reilly is the only gallery built upon a house of cards believes wrong. The art world is almost constitutionally inclined to scandal—remember the Rothko affair?—and is prone to dubious financial doings. Prestige and money, or, rather, the promise of lots of it, doesn’t encourage good behavior."