Saturday, October 24, 2009

Art Scam

I just stumbled across slightly old news stories from March concerning Lawrence Salander and his Madoff-like scheme to bilk millions of dollars from art collectors and investors. His basic operation was similar to that depicted in The Producers: selling percentage shares of artwork to trusting investors, but selling more than 100% worth of shares per artwork (so, for example, there could be five people who paid for a 50% share in a single artwork). His scheme was exposed by John McEnroe, the tennis player and now art collector. Since McEnroe was suing him because a painting he had purchased from Salander had outstanding liens against it, I'm guessing Salander had more than one type of scam going.

What brought my attention to the story was Arshile Gorky. After reading a NY Times review of a Gorky exhibit, I was reminded of one of my all-time favorite paintings, Gorky's Pirate I.

Pirate was on view at the Mattatuck Museum for many years, a long-term loan from Jean Levy before it was sold at auction by the Levy estate. It's a fantastic painting, perfectly capturing the mess and smell and noise of Pirate, a dog, raiding a garbage can. I loved being able to spend time with it at the Mattatuck and I still miss it.

When I read the NY Times article about the exhibit, I naturally was reminded of Pirate I and did a quick internet search to see if I could find out where it is today. Imagine my dismay to learn that it had been confiscated by "the authorities" as part of the criminal investigation against Salander. Poor Pirate! Do "the authorities" have the proper storage facilities for the painting (it's said to be in the custody of a bankruptcy court in Poughkeepsie), or is it languishing in a standard police storage room next to a wide variety of evidence? I suppose it will be stuck in the evidence storage room until the case is over and the true ownership is established, which could take years.