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.