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Oct. 17, 2007
DRAMA ON EAST 71ST STREET
The troubles of the Salander-O’Reilly Gallery, already bedeviled by lawsuits, have worsened [see Artnet News, Aug. 14, 2007]. Visitors to a scheduled opening at the gallery in the Forstman Mansion on 71st Street and Madison Avenue last night found the premises closed. A sheet of paper taped to the door indicated that a much-awaited Caravaggio exhibition and another show of "Masterpieces of Art" had been postponed. The centerpiece of the exhibition was Apollo the Lute Player, said to be by Caravaggio and valued at an impressive $100 million.
"Postponed" is an understatement. As security guards crowded the sidewalk and vans lined the Upper East Side streets, dozens of paintings were carted off from the gallery yesterday after the London dealer Clovis Whitfield, the major lender to the show, panicked and announced that disputes around the embattled gallery did not make him "feel secure."
Art dealer Larry Salander, who had operated his gallery there since late 2005, had hoped that sales from the two shows would cover the gallery’s mounting debts. Unpaid bills and charges of fraud had triggered more than 20 lawsuits from landlords, creditors and consignors.
On Monday, Oct. 15, 2007, Salander settled claims brought by two of those creditors. He agreed to hand over more than 600 paintings to settle a suit brought by Donald Schupak, a partner and investor in Renaissance Art Inc., an art fund that Salander formed with Schupak and his son, Andrew Schupak. (Schupak is the CEO of Triumph Apparel, which was formerly Danskin Inc.). The Schupaks obtained a court order to shut down the gallery on Oct. 11. As part of the settlement Monday, according to Schupak lawyer Barry Slotnick, the investors joined Salander in urging New York State Supreme Court judge Richard Lowe to allow the gallery exhibition to take place.
In the second settlement, hedge funder Roy Lennox of the New York firm Caxton Associates was awarded six works of art and the gallery’s library of books on fine art, on the provision that Salander would add cash and jewelry to the award if the library were assessed at a value of less than $1 million.
Judge Lowe ordered the gallery locked on Oct. 11 to prevent Salander from removing works of art from the premises. The court also ordered Salander to hire security guards to enforce the order. According to Slotnick, who visited the gallery last night, Salander-O’Reilly’s basement holds 619 Renaissance paintings.
Other prominent litigants have been lining up since late spring. According to reports, Salander is being sued by artist and former New York Observer publisher Arthur Carter for nonpayment, and by former tennis star John McEnroe for failing to double a $162,500 investment in five months. Aby Rosen, Salander’s landlord at the Forstman Mansion, is seeking back payment of the $183,000 monthly rent. Salander’s landlord at the gallery’s former space on 79th Street and Madison Avenue, Elaine Rosenberg, is suing for back rent and for the unpaid share of a painting in which she had invested.
Stuart Pivar, who sat on the sidewalk in front of the gallery yesterday in his 16th century carved walnut French wedding chair that he had just removed from the building, waited for transport across town. "I think I’m the only person who’s not suing him," he smirked.
In 31 years of operation, Salander has built critical respect and a strong clientele with sales of American modernists and Renaissance painting and sculpture. The dealer often spoke of introducing potential collectors on Wall Street to fields of art that were an alternative to the fashionable and often more expensive contemporary market.
Salander expected the "postponed" exhibitions to vindicate his approach. Paying his creditors would have been another thing. Skeptics among museum curators and dealers noted that the Apollo had sold at Sotheby’s in 1991 for $110,000 as a work from the "circle of Caravaggio," and questioned the reattribution. The painting is still for sale.
Salander had already announced that he plans to vacate the Forstman Mansion at the end of the year.
LIDKE SENTENCED IN SEATTLE
Meanwhile, across the country, former Seattle art dealer Kurt Lidtke -- who owned an eponymous gallery in the city’s Pioneer Square district, and was known as one of the country’s foremost experts in Abstract Expressionist Mark Tobey -- was sentenced to 40 months in prison after being found guilty on 19 counts of first-degree theft and one count of failing to pay taxes. The convictions grew out of a complex web of double-dealings Lidtke engaged in between 1999 to 2004, wherein the dealer accepted paintings on consignment, then traded or sold them without compensating their owners, ultimately scamming in excess of $400,000. Lindke’s defense held that his behavior was explained by alcohol and cough syrup addictions, a claim given some credence by the bizarre nature of some of his dealings -- in one instance, Lidtke actually donated Tobey’s Portrait of Richard Odlin to Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, even though the painting had been consigned him to sell by Texas art collector James Clark.
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