Caveat Artista!

Since I'm no longer doing Marketing Mondays and have not yet started Marketing Monthly let's just file this under Major Fraud:

"Atlanta police Major Fraud unit raided a well-known midtown gallery after allegations that the owner has not paid artists for their work."
--Atlanta Channel 2 news

I 've written about the problems that artists (and dealers!) have in securing payment or retrieving art from galleries, but a recent news report out of Atlanta brings to light a situation that dozens of artists have been talking about for years: that the Bill Lowe Gallery in that city has not been paying its artists after their work has been sold.

Reporter Rachel Stockman had the story . . .

. . .identifying Bill Lowe as the dealer under investigation, noting that the Major Fraud officers had removed artwork from the gallery. It's important to note that no charges have been filed as this  point, but . . .

Donald Sultan, who has been represented by Lowe, put it plainly, as you can read in this screen grab:

In the vast  information system that consists largely of artists talking with one another--and now, sharing information via Facebook and other social media--Lowe's name has come up again and again as the dealer who didn't pay. Some recent Facebook comments:

. "  I was perpetually puzzled by friends who complained about him but sent work to him anyway. It was a good looking gallery with some well established names like Sultan, and I think some people were willing to put up with him for the resume entry."

. " 
I know three artists very well who are owed many thousands of dollars by Lowe. There must be dozens at least."

I've talked with dozens. Some artists have gotten paid, typically years after their shows. Here's one artist: "I showed with him from 1989-1994. Finally got fully paid in 1999." 

A decade before full payment? That's a disgrace. Some artists did get paid more quickly, others are still waiting.

The majority of art dealers are honest and dedicated, and most are not wealthy. They're in it because they love art. If we are lucky, we get to work with them--and they, with us. We are partners in art. But use the artist information system, contribute to it. It's not libel (written) or slander (spoken) if it's true. There's is nothing libelous or slanderous about relating your personal experience about a gallery that has withheld payment or cheated you. There's nothing libelous about reporting news or investigating allegations.

If you are an artist invited to show at a gallery, ask around, do your due diligence. Talk to other artists from the gallery--or better, artists who have been but are no longer involved. If it sounds bad, even anecdotally, let that be a red flag. Don't get involved with an iffy gallery thinking it won't happen to you. Listen to Donald Sultan.

. There's a written report from Channel 2 Action News, Atlanta, from January 29, 2013, which quotes Sultan and contains a disclaimer from Lowe
. From Marketing Mondays: Gallery Red Flags


About Connie Goldman said...

This has been going for years. It's amazing that it took so long for the law to do something. I was approached by him years ago, but heard these claims and opted out. Thank goodness. Very sorry for the artists who he (purportedly) swindled.

Denise Stewart- Sanabria said...

He owes 2 artists in my community money from 2006-one $16,000, the other $32,000. There was a Toronto artist he gave a solo show to back also in '06 that sold like crazy, and he still hasn' paid him, as far as I know, over $100,00. These 3 artists were going to hire a lawyer together, but never did, worried they'd loose too much time and $ pursuing it.

Joanne Mattera said...

Yes, Connie, artists have been complaining about this situation for years. But to my knowledge, this is the first time Major Fraud has carried out an action. (Just begs for a "Law and Order" Clunk Clunk.)

Joanne Mattera said...

Denise: Usually cases like these are contingency fee-based, so if the attorney wins s/he gets about 30% of the money and if s/he loses, nothing. So attorneys won;t typically take on cases they don;t think they can win. I'd say it's worth a shot.

Unknown said...

There are so many scams that target artists these days that I've grown to suspect almost anyone who says they want my art! Thanks so much for reporting this.

Roberta Warshaw said...

I once had my work at a gallery in Florida. One day they disappeared. Gone. All the art gone. No one ever found out what happened to them or our artwork.

As a result I haven't shown at a gallery since. I don't trust them.

Anonymous said...

I live in Berlin, but I am American and I travel on business through Atlanta occasionally. I tried to get involved on behalf of a German artist and friend of mine, who was/is subject to this guy's (Bill Lowe) criminal fraud, to the extent of around $20K. I was lucky enough to recover about 20 paintings from his gallery some years ago, but many had been sold to corporate buyers (who should be ashamed of themselves for buying art in such a way, with no interest or regard for the painter). At that time, I called the Georgia State Attorney in Atlanta. I was told that they were aware of Bill Lowe's activities, but that is was a civil matter, I could wait in a very long line for compensation via a civil suit. I did not for one minute believe that is correct. The guy took money for other people's property, then refused to divulge the whereabouts of the work and distribute the owner's contractual share to them. He directly gained monetary benefit in return for promised return in kind (ie, the artists share of the paintings old value). Make no mistake, the artists did not sell the paintings to Lowe. They left them in his care, on consignment as is typical in the art world, contract being for a specific share of proceeds from sale. That share was taken and spent by Lowe, never paid as agreed by contract. The sale to corporate buyers must have involved releases and titles to the work, which thereby constitutes criminal misrepresentation and fraud. Which finally the police decided to take seriously? After how many years of hardship imposed on the rightful owners of their own works? In my opinion, the entire art-buying community of Atlanta and environs, as well as the Georgia Attorney General's Office, are accountable and should be ashamed of themselves for allowing such crime to continue unabated for so long, when they were well aware.

Michael Batell

annell4 said...

Reputation is not built in a day... it is over time, when something happens over and over, that a reputation is built. Yes, it is other artists who know the dealer.

Anonymous said...

Memo to Artist: Never let a unpaid invoice go past 90 days. Sometimes you have to get nasty when it comes to money. Call in the lawyers early so things dont spin out of control.

Anonymous said...

Great post; I was aware of this slime bucket for years. Hope he gets what's due.

Diane McGregor said...

I was approached by Lowe a few years ago, and luckily found out from an Atlanta artist friend that he was trouble. We all must help each other. Artists do your homework before sending your precious and valuable work out into the world.

Anonymous said...

I noted your article about Bill Lowe.I have LOTS of experience with old Bill. Before I go any further I felt and still feel few dealers in the world have Bill Lowes showmanship and courage to show work that he thinks is good. There is not and never has been a dealer his equal, in Atlanta. And frankly few in New york.

That being said he is also a thief, liar and cheat. I began showing with him in Atlanta in 1990,after he saw my work in a gallery in LA. Over the years I had 11 shows in the Lowe gallery and did some others in LA and in a small Atlanta Museum. He brought me customers like Elton John ,and Halle Berry. He did beautiful shows favoring large challenging work. He staged opening events with a Hollywood style and made the artist feel great.

At the same time he sold work and paid very rarely. One year he sold 48 works for me and owed me more than 125,000 dollars.I tried everything ,lawyers talked to DA etc. The laws in Georgia allow him to make virtually no payment and get away with it. It is the deep south where the working man,artist in this case,are treated very differently than the plantation owner,the art dealer.

Bill is one of the greatest salesman on earth who could sell you a bogus excuse to get you to calm down.

All the time we artists are feeling fear of being thrown out of the gallery,one that you wanted to part of. While with him in reflection I was like a drug addict I could not leave him as I so wanted the platform to show with someone who never asked me to make a little one or a blue one etc. I was loyal to him frequently convincing other artist to stay with him as I honestly believed his lies. He threw a dinner party in the gallery in 1996 which I attended and sat with Peter Drake at a table with the CEO of CNN,the room was full of the captains of industry to the total of 115 people. This was a launch party for his Olympics show. All of these rich and powerful people were his customers and friends, all of them protected him, all of the artist in the room were owed tons of money. This was the way it was.

After years of complaints I got paid,what he said he owed me, as I was guilty of poor record keeping then promptly all my unsold work was returned. A year or two later he contacted me again and again I entered his sinister web again the same thing. After a while I decided to leave him and go to another big Atlanta gallery, he shipped my work over to them and pronounced us accounts settled. I never got a log of the work. Two years later I sold a work from my web site to serious collectors in Princeton, while installing it I saw a painting of mine that I did not know they had. They told me that they bought it from Bill Lowe. I called and wrote Bill he denied it over and over I never got my $5,000. T

wice since then He has written to me offering opportunities to me to show with him. Twice I seriously considered it. The last time I said to him, "Bill I can not allow what happened in the past." He replied "I can not assure you that it will not happen again". This was the only time he may have told me the truth. The spell was broken.

He is a thief and I seriously doubt that he will be stopped by this latest brush with the law.It is the south where the law is not equal.

Joanne, I write you this full of confused feelings about him and my behavior with him. I know from reading your articles that you have tried through "Marketing Mondays" to alert artists to these perils and may even have made some of my mistakes. In the end I wish him no ill. I was cheated because of my need for his attention. He cheated me because he could. I do not think he means to do it. He just makes 1 dollar and spends 2. His need to be rich and successful is a match to the need for artist to have some place to show.

Anonymous said...

I find it very interesting that the complaints about bill lowe gallery by artists that have been ripped off still remain on his website????? I myself was represented by Lowe gallery a couple of years ago, I did pull out after Donald sultans complaints. Luckily he did pay me for works sold, but not until I got my inventory back from him, and found paintings missing. I then had to hussle to get payment.Yes this guy has all the charm, sales ability of a great con man. I also noticed he loves showing artists who do not live in Atlanta, there fore can not keep tabs on his Crook practices.This is a despicable Art Dealer, and I hope he gets busted big time.However I still dont understand why the artists that have complained are still on his site.Artists are so desperate for sales, that they are willing to conform to getting ripped off.Life as an artist is tough at the worse of times, but they should keep there dignity in tack,and pull out to stop this guy from his persistent, disrespectful regard towards artist.There will always be artists willing to show at Lowe gallery, as long as the doors stay open.

Joanne Mattera said...

I hear you, Anon 11:30. But as the Anonymous writer who posted before you notes, there are reasons having to do with attention and visibility that compelled some artists to stay. I can't imagine it, but we all have our reasons.

Anonymous said...

Verrrryyyy familiar m.o. I encountered at Thom Andriola's New Gallery in Houston. One of the complaints is "misapplication of fiduciary property" (for which BTW the owners of Hart Galleries in Houston were sentenced to 14 years in prison recently). Artists, have a consignment contract with fiduciary and security interest clauses and keep good records no matter how charming the dealer may seem.

Anonymous said...

If you are an artist who is owed money by Bill Lowe, I urge you to contact the Major Fraud investigator, working on this case. His name is Inv. Ken Stapler at 404-546-6816.

I have spoken with numerous artists who are owed significant amounts (even six figures) by Lowe, but who refuse to file a police complaint. The police considered this a civil matter previously because they were not aware of the Georgia Consignment of Art Act, which states the art dealer who sales work on consignment must pay the artist first. It also says that the artwork is trust property and the proceeds from the sale of artwork are trust funds. The police also were not aware of a pattern of conduct that dates back to 1990 -- from the witnesses who have come forward thus far.

How many artists will continue to complain in private, but will do nothing about it -- even when they are offered help. If the artists do not come forward now, then their opportunity will be lost. What's more -- certain art dealers in Atlanta will be emboldened to continue. I commend the artists who have had the courage to file criminal complaints. For those who refuse, you should know that you are doing a disservice to yourself and to your fellow artists. Where there is injustice, you will always find benediction. Do not give Lowe your blessing.