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Bankruptcy and alleged embezzlement roil LA's blue chip art world




Arts reporter Jori Finkel with an Indeterminate Line sculpture by Bernar Venet on Beverly Drive below Wilshire Blvd. Venet got seven works back from Ace Gallery after it filed for bankruptcy.
Arts reporter Jori Finkel with an Indeterminate Line sculpture by Bernar Venet on Beverly Drive below Wilshire Blvd. Venet got seven works back from Ace Gallery after it filed for bankruptcy.
John Rabe

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Off-Ramp host John Rabe speaks with Jori Finkel, who covers art for The New York Times and The Art Newspaper, about two big cases shaking up LA's high-stakes blue chip art world.

The first involves an infamous art dealer: after nearly 50 years of selling art and being sued, Doug Chrismas has lost control of Ace Gallery.

"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." -- Jori Finkel, NYT

As Jori points out, decades ago, in his diaries, Andy Warhol, wrote "the check is late ...  the check is late ... Doug Chrismas is so awful."

The second case, the arrest of Perry Rubenstein:

"When the veteran art dealer Perry Rubenstein moved his art gallery here from New York four years ago, he boldly declared that Los Angeles had become the country’s most exciting art scene, and he wanted to be part of it. Instead, Mr. Rubenstein’s life quickly collapsed: He was hit with a string of lawsuits for breach of contract; he and his wife divorced in early 2014; and his gallery filed for bankruptcy protection soon after, with prominent Los Angeles artists like Shepard Fairey and Zoe Crosher among his creditors."  --Ian Lovett, NYT

And, it was revealed, Michael Ovitz was among the clients claiming Rubenstein ripped them off.

As Finkel tells us, the art world's secrecy and discretion makes a fertile field for these kinds of cases. Make sure to listen to our interview, held outside Ace Gallery in Beverly Hills.