Constable’s Skies, an exhibition at Salander O’Reilly Galleries in 2004 evoked idle questions amongst dealers I knew at the time wondering how the gallery could afford to mount a show in which nothing was for sale. I didn’t care then. The collection of paintings was undoubtedly one of the best I’d seen — causing that kind of flip flop you get in your chest when you see works of such astounding beauty and grace — and remains so to this day. Coincidently, I’m not the only one who recalls the show in light of the gallery closure, forced bankruptcy and leins; Men’s vogue just published an article which cites Roger Kimball, a writer for the Wall Street Journal asking the same question.
Speaking of which, not since Vanity Fair’s expose on Michael Jackson’s estate in 2003, have I read such a thorough report on the business and personality details leading to Lawrence Salander’s financial troubles. Kelly Devine Thomas runs through it all in this piece; Salander’s deep personal investment in art, and his strategies in building a stronger market for 12th to 18th century art works, but also what seems near irrational shock that those who lost money or art works would feel so betrayed, and a lavish life style contradicting his claims that his practice was never about money.
The article goes on to detail a variety of financial problems ranging from the nearly 80 million owed in debts, and the unopened show Masterpieces of Art Salander had gambled making close to half a billion on, to a laundry list of disputes the dealer had with his business partners and clients. Amongst the more egregious wrong doings was the unauthorized sale of art works owned by others. And of course, given the number of ownership claims now coming in, as anyone who’s worked in the secondary market for any length of time knows, sorting them out in gallery of that size is exactly the nightmare Thomas describes. To cite just one example, seemingly countless permutations of Bonnard’s nudes exist all titled similarly. Given the variation that occurs when recording size and title, even the most fastidious of us would have problems figuring out who owns what.
Oddly, I still found it hard not to feel sympathy for the dealer. Even in the face of impossibility the man genuinely seemed to believe he would pay off his debts. Thomas closes on a rather down note quoting Salander himself, “My intent was always to pay,” he [says]. “No one is starving here. The injured parties are owed what they are owed, but they made a lot of money with me over the years.” He points to Myron Kunin. “I sold him most of his pictures,” Salander says. “I sold them to him and then sold them for him. I made him a fortune.”
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