Did Gagosian Play Both Sides of a Deal?

Roy Lichtenstein, “Girl in the Mirror” (1964) (Image via Christie’s)

Remember that infamous “make a cruel and offensive offer” email from Gagosian gallery Los Angeles director Deborah McLeod? She suggested that to a potential buyer for a 1964 Roy Lichtenstein painting, “Girl in Mirror,” since the seller was in “terrible straits.” Well, that seller is pretty angry at Gagosian for playing both sides of the equation.

“Girl in Mirror” belongs to Jan Cowles, who claims that Gagosian sold her painting without her permission. The dealer sold it through her son, Charles. After some failed deals (they consider the work damaged, reports the New York Times), the gallery sold the piece to Thompson Dean for $2 million, though Gagosian had promised $2.5 million. Gagosian took a $1 million commission.

The problem here is that Gagosian had a relationship with both the seller and the buyer. So whose primary concerns was he actually serving by marketing a questionably damaged painting, telling the buyer to make a slimy offer, and pushing it on the seller? The answer is probably his own.

In his court deposition, Gagosian said, “As a matter of practice, art dealers frequently represent the buyer and the seller.” It’s just another murky aspect of the opaque world of art sales. If what Gagosian says is the case, which it seems to be, then who is protecting the interests of both clients? Surely using different representatives would better serve the interests of the two external parties, but is that realistic?

But that’s not the point, I guess. The point is to trade money for art, do it efficiently, and do it over again, never mind the specific provenance or ownership context of the work. Oh, well.

For more details, see the New York Times‘s report by Randy Kennedy and ARTINFO’s take from Julia Halperin.

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