Dealing art is a profession that demands intelligence, sensibility and honesty. As a person that buys and sells works of art, an art dealer must be well-versed in art history as well as finance. These people travel around the world to countless museums and galleries to familiarize themselves with the various artists that they represent. Then, they must build relationships with collectors and museums interested in buying and investing in the artists’ work. Many art dealers are artists themselves and are very much integrated into the art world.
But being an art dealer is not all about the artwork. These are business-people. They have to understand the economic side of the art world: what style is in demand, the fair market prices for objects, the market trends, etc. Determining an artwork’s value demands close inspection of the work, comparing its details and style with similar pieces in order to reach a price that investors consider fair. Just like any other market, the art world experiences economic upward and downward trends. Furthermore, just like any other worker in the economic market, the most trusted and successful art dealers are those that are economically conscious and smart, rather than risky with investors’ money.
Aside from understanding the business side of art trade, gaining the trust of one’s clients is vital for the success of an art dealer. That’s exactly where Lawrence Salander went wrong.
Larry Salander, a sixty-year-old art dealer who worked at the Phoenix Gallery in New York seemed to be incredibly successful. He had been a prominent art collector and figure for the past 40 years in the New York art market. He had a 66-acre estate in Millbrook, New York, traveled the world by private jet, and recently finished building a small baseball stadium for his own enjoyment. But his prosperity was not a result of honest art dealings.
Salander was sentenced on Tuesday August 3rd, 2010, to at least six years in prison. He hadbeen swindling his clients for the past 13 years amounting in over $120 million. He admitted to selling artwork that he did not own, keeping the proceeds from fake investment opportunities, and selling more than 100 percent interest on single works. He used the sale proceeds to pay off his own debts and to indulge. He pleaded guilty to grand larceny, giving this statement at the state supreme court: “You trusted me and I betrayed you and I am deeply sorry for the pain and loss my actions have caused you. I have lost my wife, my business, and my reputation. I am utterly and completely disgraced.”
But few feel any bit of remorse for Salander. Although Salander most likely will not be able to repay his clients due to his declaration of bankruptcy, the court judge has ordered him to pay it. Ellyn Shander, the daughter of art investor Alexander Pearlman, stated to the New York Times that Salander stole her father’s collection of works by masters Cezanne, Monet, and Picasso. She said that after her father’s death, Salander came to visit her in clear remorse and soon “walked out with a $2 million-plus art collection that he stole.”
Other famous clients that Salander swindled include former tennis player, John McEnroe and artist Robert De Niro Sr. (the actor’s father). McEnroe lost $2 million by investing in 2 Arshile Gorky paintings that Salander lied about owning. Robert De Niro Sr. was an abstract expressionist artist. Salander got his hands on 12 De Niro paintings without Robert De Niro’s (the actor) approval. Furthermore, Renaissance Art Investors LLC lost $45 million to Salander. These few clients were just a few of the various people and museums involved in Salander’s sting.
Watching the trial progress over the past few months since March has begged the question: why did he do it? Is the money worth betraying the relationships built on trust? And now that he has declared bankruptcy, what does he do once he gets out of jail? Cases like Salander make the world much more skeptical of art dealers. In a society that already encounters a fair amount of forgeries, Salander’s betrayal does not make it any easier. To read about forgeries in art see our previous blog post.
The New Britain Museum of American Art is approached by many art dealers looking to sell works for exhibitions or the permanent collection. We strive to be one of the nation’s most distinguished art museums by forming, conserving, and researching an encyclopedic collection of the best works in all media by American artists. We also have the pleasure of displaying both the real painting and the copy of Frank Weston Benson’s Figure In a Room. Situated side-by-side the paintings can be compared by the viewer and be used to draw conclusions about the importance of honesty and authenticity in the art world.The Benson saga gives more insight into the world or dealers, auctions, and forgeries. To read more about our Figure in a Room see this blog entry.
How do scandals such as this affect the works of art themselves? Or do they not? How can this change our perception of a work? Does knowing it is only worth half of what was paid make it less beautiful? Why or why not?