More than seven years is a long time to wait for a loaned painting to be returned. But after such a long wait, Sandro Botticelli’s Madonna and Child (1485) is being returned to its owner, Kraken Investments Limited (Kraken). Kraken had consigned the painting to a gallery for sale, but the gallery’s bankruptcy intervened. For a time, it seemed that the painting would never be returned to Kraken, and that instead the gallery’s lender’s security interest would take priority, leaving Kraken within only an unsecured claim in the bankruptcy case. That dispute has only recently been resolved, with a reversal giving the Botticelli back to Kraken. [See Kraken Investments Ltd. v. Jacobs (In re Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, LLC), Case No. 14-cv-03544 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 25, 2014)] It has been, for many, a cautionary tale.
Recent years have seen the collapse of several major art galleries, some from financial conflicts with lenders or other parties, other from shady business practices and outright fraud. Perhaps the most spectacular was the collapse of Salander O’Reilly Galleries, LLC (SOG). In 2007, SOG was facing numerous lawsuits alleging that SOG and its founder and principal Larry Salander (Salander) had double-pledged works, and had sold others but failed to pay their consignors the proceeds from the sales. Several of SOG’s creditors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against the gallery in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York (the Bankruptcy Court), which was subsequently converted to a voluntary petition under chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. At the time of the bankruptcy petition, SOG possessed more than 4,000 artworks, some of which it owned (in whole or in part), but many were not owned by SOG, and had been consigned to SOG by artists, artists’ estates, collectors, or other dealers. SOG’s victims included Earl Davis, who consigned more than 90 of his father, Earl Davis’s paintings (Davis v. Carroll) , Robert De Niro, Jr., who consigned 12 of his father, Robert De Niro, Sr.’s paintings, and John McEnroe, who had entered into a joint-ownership arrangement with Salander to acquire two paintings by Arshile Gorky, only to find himself a victim of double-dealing. The fall of SOG presents, in microcosm, almost every possible way in which a secured transaction, consignment or entrustment of art or cultural property can go awry, and it spurred amendments to the art consignment provisions of New York’s Art and Cultural Affairs Law.