Art dealers lie. a lot of. It’s part of the business – the facts are almost impossible to prove.but we found some receipts

The Art Detective, Katya Kazakina’s weekly column for Artnet News Pro, lifts the curtain on the present real in the art market.

Why do art dealers lie?

This question is bound to make people laugh. Such as: are you serious? Or: is this even a problem? And: Welcome to the art world!

There are omission lies (withholding information) and commissioned lies (distorting information). Both types are very useful to liars — not so useful to recipients.

“It’s always greed,” argues one art consultant. “These dealers are lying because they are greedy. They will make more money by changing the environment.”

There are well-known cases of lies that have landed dealers in legal trouble. Los Angeles gallerist Douglas Chrismas just ordered to repay creditors A forensic accountant made more than $14 million after discovering he hid a small fortune in shell accounts before filing for bankruptcy.Sell ​​the same artwork to multiple investors landing dealers such as Larry Salander and Inigo Philbrick in prison.

But these are extreme cases. Most of the lies told by dealers are not illegal, or even close to it. They are just part of doing business in an opaque industry where information is the most valuable currency. While often whispered, they are generally unlikely to be controversial.

But at least in one common case – not illegal, I should say – misrepresentation, we have the receipt. (More on that later.)


Sometimes hype can be an excuse for lying. Dealers lie about sold-out booths, waiting lists, and institutional interests at exhibitions and art fairs. There are tricks lurking in every corner of the art world. You may think your work is being purchased by a museum trustee, only to find out later that it has been flipped by an art fund. Or, the paintings of your coveted artist are offered to others, despite the gallery guaranteeing nothing is available. Gallery directors may ask you to “join the program” to improve your status as a collector – promising that at some unspecified point in time that seems to never arrive, the work you want may end up being yours!

“When dealers say business is great, they lie because nothing beats success,” said artist and author Walter Robinson. “When dealers say for sympathy and to avoid paying raises or bills When business is slow, they lie.”

To make things seem even more unique, dealers will sometimes tell you that they’ve finally been able to release a work that’s been shelved by the museum. “They often do it with very poor quality pieces,” says Amsterdam-based collector Freddie Insinger.

Of course, there is a The spectrum between outright, deliberate lies and statements that can be misinterpreted. Dealers often disclose sales by asking pThe rice is attached, no mention of the actual pRice reflects discount. TonHey, it might say a work was sold on the first day of an art fair, when in fact it was sold in advance via PDF.

Most of the time, we can never determine the gap between what the gallery says and the truth. But this is a story of what we do.


Last May, as the art world began to shake off the pandemic, some galleries flocked to Art Basel Hong Kong.The first IRL Art Basel in almost 18 months, it will send an important signal About state-of-the-art markets.

So when Lévy Gorvy Gallery announced at the show’s VIP opening that it had sold a painting by Joan Mitchell for an asking price of about $19.5 million, it was a big deal.title 12 Eagles at 3:00The 1962 abstract canvas is a beehive of brushstrokes, muscular and flexible, in various shades of green and red. That is a beauty.

Joan Mitchell,

Joan Mitchell, 12 Eagles at 3:00 (1960). © Legacy of Joan Mitchell.

I first saw this painting at Christie’s New York in 2018 when it was offered as part of a legendary collector Barney Absworth Real Estate Sales. It’s large—almost 10 feet tall and 6.5 feet wide—but reminiscent of human proportions. The provenance is impressive: it was originally owned by painter Sam Francis until his death in 1994. It then joined the Ebsworth collection along with masterpieces by Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Edward Hopper.

The painting was estimated at between $12 million and $16 million, including costs, and fetched $14 million. It became the second most expensive Mitchell at auction.

Three years later, Lévy Gorvy’s announcement of a successful resale is significant — the $19.5 million asking price is the highest price Mitchell has ever known, and its auction sales are down 21 percent from their 2018 peak.

“Asia has a lot of interest in Mitchell,” Brett Gorvy Tell art news then. “In this area, you have very eager and avid collectors who have been collecting in other areas, and now they have rapidly moved into major Western art.”

The gallery declined to name the buyers or specify their location, art news noted, adding that “even as the pandemic rages on, this sale marks a lasting strength in the Asian art market.”

Optics are great for Levi Govey and the broader blue-chip art market. Demand from Asia has been one of the biggest stories of the past two years.

There is only one problem: 3:12 Eagles Sold a month ago – not in Asia, nor The price is around $19.5 million.


Dealers often fudge asking prices to shape public perception, while often discounting collectors and institutions, but this seems to be a particularly extreme example. That’s what happened – and the explanation from the gallerists, who believed the statement was accurate and insisted they had no intention of deceiving anyone.

April 23, 2021 – one month before the show –12 Eagles at 3:00 High Fashion Concepts LLC, an entity controlled by the Mugrabi family of collectors and dealers, sold for $14.2 million to partial art ownership firm Masterworks, according to regulatory filings obtained by Art Detective. That price represents a tiny 1.4% increase in value over 2.5 years — not the $5.5 million increase that Lévy Gorvy’s published price suggests.

But how exactly did the painting sell for $19.5 million at Art Basel Hong Kong, as widely reported? It turns out that Lévy Gorvy is the co-owner of the work, which he purchased with Christie’s Mugrabis in 2018.

Brett Govey and Dominic Levy. Photo: Ben Bay.

According to SEC filings, Masterworks purchased the painting in a massive acquisition in 2021 worth more than $300 million.A sort of An increasingly powerful player in the market, Masterworks creates an LLC for each piece, charges an 11% fee, and offers it to investors like an IPO. Individual shares start at $20.if 12 Eagles at 3:00the document shows, the minimum buy-in is $15,000.

On July 6, 2021, Masterworks filed an offering notice, a brochure issued upon listing of new securities on the private market, for 12 Eagles at 3:00the “maximum issuance amount” is $15.8 million.

The purchase agreement and SEC issuance circular reviewed by Art Detective show that Masterworks retained ownership before and after Art Basel Hong Kong. The purchase agreement states that the painting was at the fair “for exhibition purposes.”

Screenshot of Masterworks' purchase agreement for Mitchell's painting.

Screenshot of Masterworks’ purchase agreement for Mitchell’s painting.

Representatives for Masterworks and High Fashion Concepts did not respond to emails and calls seeking comment. Brett Gorvy and Dominique Lévy, founders of the gallery since then A new reseller called LGDR was establishedproviding the following statement answer list of questions:

“Lévy Gorvy and HFC [High Fashion Concepts] Co-purchase Joan Mitchell’s 1962 painting 12 Eagles at 3:00 at auction. Subsequently, the co-owners reluctantly decided to return the painting earlier than planned due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the postponement of the Joan Mitchell Museum retrospective. The best way, Lévy Gorvy thinks, is to present the work at Art Basel Hong Kong — the only “face-to-face” art fair during the pandemic — as the centerpiece of its booth.At the same time, the conversation with Masterwork also started [sic] About the possible acquisition of this painting. News of the extraordinary canvas’ appearance at Art Basel Hong Kong sparked interest and sparked an auction.

Lévy Gorvy believes the sale is a direct result of the fair, so the gallery reports that the work has been sold. As a matter of policy and at the request of clients, Lévy Gorvy seldom discusses transaction prices for works in its sales reports, instead disclosing bids. “


A representative for Art Basel said the fair was not aware of the incident. When asked about the deal — which was shared with the press on VIP opening day by Lévy Gorvy representatives and the fair’s publicity team — the spokesperson said: “Art Basel does not engage in any negotiation between galleries and buyers. Private transactions.. We are not aware of this and cannot speak on behalf of galleries on this issue.” She added, “When reporting sales that occur on our platform, Art Basel relies on galleries to offer sales voluntarily.”

presumably, 12 Eagles at 3:00 Now sitting in Freeport, Delaware, where Masterworks usually ship their loot.

The interior corridor of the ARCIS Freeport in Harlem. Image courtesy of ARCIS ©2018.

The interior corridor of the ARCIS Freeport in Harlem. Image courtesy of ARCIS ©2018.

It’s unclear who would be harmed by such misrepresentation, especially if the transaction was between a willing buyer and a willing seller, lawyers said. It’s easy to imagine that other owners of similar Mitchells might even be encouraged by such reports. But it also sows uncertainty — and perpetuates the art market’s reputation for lack of transparency.

A dealer not involved in the deal told me it was all about marketing. “You can impress people by selling pieces like this and potentially attract similar shipments,” the person said.

There is no doubt that the packaging of this sale is good for the business. Now that the $19.5 million price tag associated with Mitchell’s work is disclosed, it no longer seems unreasonable to ask for (or pay) $20 million. Too bad the price isn’t real.

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