Buyer Be Damned

STORY BY Josh King

Published: December 16, 2014

A lawsuit filed by billionaire art collector Ronald Perelman against art megadealer Larry Gagosian was dismissed Thursday by an appeals court.

(Photo: Larry Gagosian (L) and Ron Perelman (R).)

The art world is a heinous place where people get eaten alive if they aren’t aware of the forces which drive the machinery.  Machiavellian in nature, the rich do not always get richer playing the art game, especially when dealing with heavyweights like Larry Gagosian. 

In recent years it has come to the attention of the media that something is radically wrong with the art business, whether it’s flea market chicanery, or the sudden upturns of a sale at a major auction house, yet no one wants to talk about what is truly at the core of the inferno of the billion-dollar Art Business. Just as with the case of Perelman vs Gagosian: these things are shoved neatly under the carpet.

Point in question: 

Perelman’s case accuses Gagosian in no uncertain terms of manipulating prices and values of art, which is common practice in the art market. Dealers have been doing such things since Joseph Duveen’s time.  Duveen, together with Bernard Berenson, duped some of the richest men in America into playing a game they invented.  Working people drawn onto their stage by the desire to be surrounded by beauty and to score a great work of art, the mega rich are often singed when they think they can outsmart dealers who maneuver players with no remorse.  Further still, even in today’s educated market, the most savvy buyers purchase what they believe to be are world class masterpieces, only to discover are good renditions painted by second and third tier artists of their day.

One asks, ‘how can these machinations be possible’ in a business where scrutiny should be exercised on a daily basis.  Answer is, the art business is self-governed.  There are no rules or regulations, there are no boundaries or parameters by which dealers, auction houses, museums, collectors and investors must abide.  Someone recently said the art world is like The Wild West, where fast guns like Gagosian can hold up a person like Perelman who has little recourse except to say “meet me outside mother fucker”, which of course will never happen, because this isn’t Dodge: it’s Madison Avenue.

I often wonder why with so much money changing hands, with the world’s most priceless objects going on the block, and the FBI coming down on art world criminals on a regular basis, no one talks about what is truly at the bottom of this insane situation we call the Art Business.  One can only compare it to  Chicago at a time when Elliot Ness decided to clean up that city and established a task force to solely deal with what had become rampant criminal behavior on such a level that there could be no justice, because even the justice system had gone afoul. 

What keeps a world like this insulated, free from ruination, is the fact that almost everyone in America especially big business, politics, and the higher echelons of society, or in short- the ruling class, has something to do with the art business, whether it is collecting, sponsoring or investing money into what has been said is the most lucrative money trafficking system next to the drug cartels.  When law enforcement or journalists go in, they are told when they hit certain pockets of crime in the art world, to look the other way. 

A securities lawyer in New York commented, when involved in major financial cases having to do with Lehman Brothers, Bear Sterns, Meryl Lynch and others, that his firm could only go so far in trying these cases because the government would put restrictions on law while these cases were in court.  Obviously, there’s a lot to protect.  America is notorious for covering criminal behavior involving big business (The Bush Administration) where the rich get away with murder while the poor continues to pay the price.

The Perelman/Gagosian case is barely about the rich taking down the poor, more about the rich devouring the rich. 

In ancient Rome, the civilization fell because the wealthy and powerful began to attack each other.  Their greed and ignorance surpassed their ethical and moral behavior. There is a Rome like energy that prevails in America today, especially in New York.  The elite believe they can get away with anything; they feed off each other, take care of each other and buy into each other’s businesses. They cover each other’s asses and bury the bodies when they have to.  It’s not that they have the right to do so, it’s that we’ve created a society where they have the power to do so.  Everything supports what is up, not down in a place we once called home.

In today’s elitist society the rich make the rules and everyone else follows. The art market is a reflection of what has happened to America and what will continue to happen until the country collapses. There is no way a society can function without a middle class, where people who work for a living to have a decent profession cannot participate and prosper the way people did in the second half of the 20th century.

The decision in this case is a sad and telling statement of how laws are bent to abide by the way things are, rather than the way things should be. If someone wants to look closely at what is really causing the disturbances in the art market, all they have to do is walk into Helly Namad’s gallery on Madison Avenue, or where it once stood at the Carlyle Hotel. 

Namad was found guilty of illegal gambling, using his gallery and his family’s good name as a front. Sentenced to a year in federal prison he was out in five months with people asking if he was going to Art Fair Basel.  Because his family is worth mega millions he goes from a prison cell to South Beach, whereas a prominent dealer like Larry Salander who had a bad run after years of doing nothing but good in the art world is lucky if he gets visitation rights, because was hung out to dry by the same people who are at each other’s throats.

It is truly a sin that the courts, the media and the art world itself allows this vampirism to go on.  At some point these people will kill each other off and the walls of Madison Avenue’s rich and famous playpens with art will fall.

Mr. Perelman’s side had something revealing to say about this decision.

"While we are reviewing our appellate remedies and other options, it is obvious that this is no vindication for Mr. Gagosian," Taylor said. "To the contrary, while the court decided that we were not entitled to rely on Gagosian, it did not conclude that he did not act fraudulently. Indeed, when it comes to the art market, apparently it's buyer beware and when it comes to Larry Gagosian, it's buyer be damned. "

Damned is the only word one can use to describe the goings-on behind the sacred walls of what was once a gentleman’s business. Now, it just resembles Chicago’s South Side.

Other Stories by Josh King
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