Art dealer Mary Boone featured on the cover of New York magazine in 1982 (image by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

This afternoon, February 14, infamous gallerist Mary Boone was sentenced to 30 months in prison for tax fraud. In a courtroom packed with artists, she was granted up to one year of supervised release. She was also ordered to complete 180 hours of community service.

In September, the gallerist pled guilty to two counts of filing a false federal income tax return. The Mary Boone Gallery’s 2012 tax forms reported a business loss for the previous year of about $52,00 although the gallery actually made about $3.7 million in profits, according to documents filed by the United States attorney’s office. Prosecutors had recommended that she serve three years in jail.

Boone used business funds to pay for more than $1.6 million in personal expenses from a $900,000 home remodeling job to $300,000 in personal credit card charges for beauty salon purchases ($24,380) and luxury retail goods ($20,000). She had already agreed with prosecutors to pay restitution of at least $3 million to the Internal Revenue Service when she pleaded guilty. (That number represents additional tax due and owing as a result of her filing of false individual and corporate income tax returns for the calendar years 2009, 2010, and 2011.)

Ahead of her sentencing, many prominent art world figures asked for leniency from the court in written testimonies to Boone’s character. The gallerist’s list of supporters includes artist Julian Schnabel (“The Mary I know is careful and responsible and always paid attention to detail”), Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Jerry Saltz (“Ms. Boone’s reputation over these many decades is impeccable”), and dealer Jeffrey Deitch (“Mary Boone is the most important and influential art gallerist of her generation”). Artist Ai Weiwei also wrote a letter in support of Boone, as did art collector and former magazine publisher Peter Brant, who himself served time for tax fraud in 1990.

The gallerist also has her detractors, even as artists and critics have come to her defense. Reportedly, assistants have called her “Scary Spice”; others claimed she was difficult to work with and for. There is also speculation that the federal case against her originated with an aggrieved employee, who could receive nearly $300,000 in whistleblower money as a tip-off reward.

Nevertheless, Boone’s proponents have stuck by her side. In particular, Saltz has taken to Twitter in defense of the gallerist where he suggests that tax fraud is a widespread phenomenon amongst art dealers.

Once hailed as “The New Queen of the Art Scene,” by New York Magazine in 1982, Boone was arrested in 1999 after the police were told that she was offering gallery visitors live ammunition as mementos at a Tom Sachs exhibition. The charges, which she told reporters were an “outrageous attack” on artists’ rights, were eventually dropped. In 2016, Boone accused Alec Baldwin of evading $16,625 in taxes, after he sued her for allegedly selling him a copy, rather than an original, of the Ross Bleckner painting “Sea and Mirror” in 2010.

Zachary Small was a writer at Hyperallergic.

7 replies on “Art Dealer Mary Boone Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison”

  1. SEE: Morrisseau Portrait – SPECIAL EDITION – 2015 YouTube Video. Completed in 2009 after two years of research and studio work, this monumental (8′ x 6′) portrait is the only monumental portrait of Morrisseau in North America. It is searching for a permanent home – to “honour” Morrisseau’s legacy.

  2. This woman is so unpleasant I am not surprised this is how she has ended up. She has been bailed out so many times before by bigger galleries so prices of artists work don’t go down. If all the gallerists in NYC had their accounts checked into more clearly I am sure at least 25% would be guilty of the same crimes. And the judge is right, why should someone who is holding narcotics be sent away while someone like her hides away millions.

    1. absolutely right. I’m not surprised Schnabel is a defender-he owes her his painting rep. Stalz should be ashamed of himself. She, along with Holly and Horace Solomon, contributed to the inflated art market of the 80s and to argue that she deserves a break over a “regular” criminal is absurd. Gagosian et al be forewarned.

  3. her art world defenders have spent too much time in the mink lined bunker with her…complicit in the transactional corruption that represents much (if not all) of the high-end-Marie-Antionette-international-art-world.

  4. Sounds like a slap on the wrist, typical for white collar criminals? But it does give me hope we’ll see some investigations into the tax returns of the current occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, DC.

  5. COMPLETELY OUT OF TOUCH, Of course she has to pay her damn taxes what are these people talking about??! #hypocrites blasting the rich one day and sticking up for them the next WHAT A JOKE, only it’s NOT.

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