Just days after a group of artists released a public letter accusing CB1 Gallery and its owners of financial wrongdoings, the gallery has announced it will be closing next month. “Given our cash flow and slow sales, in late March we made the difficult decision to close the gallery,” CB1 co-founder Clyde Beswick told the Los Angeles Times, “CB1 will close at the end of our current exhibition.”
Opening in a downtown Los Angeles storefront in 2010, the gallery relocated to a much larger space in 2015, located on Santa Fe Avenue at the southern end of the Arts District. In the Los Angeles Times article, Beswick partly blamed the gallery’s financial difficulties on the ambitious move. The building had also been home to the LA art-world veteran Rosamund Felsen’s gallery, until she decided to close in 2016.
Artists who have shown with the gallery expressed mix reactions to the announcement. Some are angry at Beswick and co-owner Jason Chang for not taking better care of the gallery’s finances, while others are frustrated with a system that allows situations like this to happen all too often.
“My thoughts about the closing of CB1 Gallery range from better-late-than-never to careful-who-you-jump-into-bed-with in the artworld,” artist Brett Reichman told Hyperallergic via email. “As an artist who has successfully exhibited in high profile venues for the better part of 25 years, this experience has brought more to light how artists are often taken advantage of, and once you are, the economic, social, and political pressures associated with stepping forward are daunting. The business of art must undergo reform.”
Reichman, one of the signatories of the letter, told Hyperallergic he filed a lawsuit “following a year of unfulfilled promises of payment” after his 2015 solo show with the gallery. “My exhibition did very well in sales and reviews, however my portion of the percentage of sales was not forthcoming. Clyde Beswick’s failure to compensate me was a breach of contract …. Only after an attorney was involved was I able to negotiate a payment plan, a plan Mr. Beswick proposed, which he did adhere to but only for a few months until checks began bouncing, more excuses, the payments stopped, and he defaulted on the agreement.”
Although he implicates the art business in general, Reichman says Beswick was directly responsible for the debacle. “Clyde Beswick’s unethical business practices and immoral behavior caused the demise of the gallery.”
Michael Mancari echoed Reichman in castigating Beswick and Chang for their mismanagement. “They continue to deceive and deny accountability for their actions,” he told Hyperallergic via email. “Unfortunately, this story is similar to many other stories, like the infamous Bellwether Gallery which closed in 2009 … Like many artists affected by that debacle they remain unpaid. We will remain resolute and determined to hold the ownership accountable for their debts to all the artists.” Mancari also filed a lawsuit against the gallery in December hoping to collect the $10,000 he says he is owed.
One artist who did not sign the letter is Lorenzo Hurtado Segovia. Although he says he is still owed money by the gallery, he expressed gratitude for Beswick’s support. “I still appreciate Clyde and what he’s done for us,” he told Hyperallergic when reached by phone. “I’ve gained so much from the partnership. It’s something I certainly value.” As for their financial relationship, he says, “it started fine. But the hole got too deep … I have outstanding balances, but I remain hopeful.”
“It’s a systemic problem across many galleries,” he said, stressing that the problem was larger than just one gallery. “It’s hard to know which galleries are in trouble. There’s a public presence with glamor, but behind the scenes it’s secret.”
Even amongst gallery artists who directed ire at Beswick for withholding payments from them, several expressed sadness over the gallery’s decision to close. “I am not sure what else I can say except that it’s a horrible way to end. It’s terribly sad,” Jaime Scholnick told Hyperallergic via email. Scholnick said she was not still owed money by the gallery, but signed the letter in solidarity with the others.
“I think this is the problem with the hierarchy of power, be it Hollywood, politics, or the art world. It is not uncommon for this to happen and I do not know, given his history, how Clyde could have been so irresponsible,” she said, alluding to Beswick’s serving 13 months in prison for embezzlement in 1997.
“I don’t have any idea why/how he got himself into the severity of the mess he is in and for such a long time but as a good friend, and a very honest art dealer (whom will remain anonymous) told me yesterday (and I quote) ‘FUCK those guys! If you can’t pay your artists you don’t get to play this game.’”