Art law United Kingdom

Lawyers dismiss Park West libel case

However non-binding judgement means part of action will still go ahead

LONDON. A defamation case against two London lawyers who are suing the Michigan-based Park West Gallery over their purchase of a set of Salvador Dalí prints was dismissed last month, after a panel of three attorneys in Michigan assigned the case a value of $0.00. The panel, whose recommendations are non-binding, said the gallery should pay $347,900, around half the money they are seeking, to settle the couple’s suit against the gallery (The Art Newspaper, February 2009, p45).

The gallery withdrew its libel case against Sharon Day and her husband, Julian Howard, voluntarily. But according to Park West Gallery’s attorney Rodger Young of the firm Young & Susser, the gallery does not accept the panel’s other recommendations, so the case will proceed to trial later this year.

The story began in December 2007 when Day and Howard went on a cruise with Royal Caribbean. They purchased three Salvador Dalí prints from the artist’s “Divine Comedy” series, created in 1951, for over $97,000 from Park West Gallery which leases rooms on board Royal Caribbean cruise ships. After the cruise, Day and Howard purchased a complete set of Dalí’s “Divine Comedy” prints for over $483,000.

According to the gallery, each print in the series is signed by both the artist and the French publisher of the work. Day and Howard allege the gallery told them the acquisition was a sound investment which would escalate in value, a claim the gallery denies.

A few months later, Day and Howard decided to sell, but say they were told by a Sotheby’s expert that a complete signed set of “Divine Comedy” prints is worth between $60,000 and $80,000. At Day and Howard’s invitation, Dalí experts including Nicolas Descharnes, the son of the photographer Robert Des­charnes, a friend and associate of the artist, examined the prints and concluded that although they are genuine, the artist’s signatures are fake.

Park West Gallery director Morris Shapiro rejected the findings of these experts and said three Dalí specialists, including Daniel David, current director of Les Heures Claires, the French publisher of the prints, determine that the signatures are real.

When asked why Park West Gallery had sold the prints for nearly $500,000—over six times the value apparently put on a complete signed set of “Divine Comedy” prints by Sotheby’s and over 40 times the highest price an unsigned set has made at auction—Jaye Quadrozzi of Young & Susser said: “The value of these prints has been discussed in detail. Morris Shapiro, in his deposition in this case, clearly discussed the fact that Park West itself has sold other fully signed sets for in excess of the price which Mr Howard and Ms Day paid for them.”

Meanwhile, the Michigan Court of Appeals also issued an order bringing Royal Caribbean Cruises back into Day and Howard’s case as co-defendants with Park West Gallery. They had previously been dismissed from the case because their attorney had argued that if anyone was at fault, it was Park West Gallery. But Donald Payton, the lawyer representing Day and Howard, said: “The cruise line provides a room for the auctions and makes upwards of 40% of all the sales.”

Royal Caribbean Cruises issued a statement saying: “Royal Caribbean denies any allegation or suggestion that it has done anything wrong. We take very seriously the issues that have recently been raised regarding some of Park West’s business practices.”

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Comments

14 Sep 10
20:22 CET

KATZENJAMMER, LOS ANGELES

Bottom line - when you see these works with their "official" appraisals and you have a salesperson telling you they are worth what you are paying, and that they have sold for more, etc. etc. PLUS that they are collectible and will appreciate - one may be taken in. The bottom line is that you are at a respectable sales office on a name brand cruise line. The last thing you expect is that something is fraudulent - who commits an outright crime in full daylight in front of hundreds of witnesses. The sheer brashness of what they do is what makes it hard to fight. If someone robs you in darkness you know its a crime, but if they appraoch in daylight and say you owe them money and they can prove it - then they just might get away with the extortion.

9 May 10
18:37 CET

JOE B, CHARLOTTE

There are so many different points brought up here that it makes your head spin! If you're on vacation aboard a cruise ship, there is little or no internet access. Additionally, you're on a Royal Caribbean cruise line (can you say 'well respected brand name?) and you're doing business with "the world's largest art gallery" that has been in business over 40 years with a self-proclaimed "over a million satisfied customers". Arguably, this is worth nothing to most people, but at the VERY, VERY least, you expect the art to be authentic! OK, so it's overpriced ... but at least be authentic! How can one argue that a buyer is at fault here? If you go into Wal-Mart and buy some meat that is packaged in clear wrap that says 'filet mignon' on the package and you get home to find tofu, does buyer beware apply? Come on already .... we all trust that the product is what is stated. You may be paying too much, but at least it should be steak. It's robbery on the high seas in int'l waters!!

24 Apr 10
0:58 CET

HUNTER, WEST PALM

I think it is funny that you blame the gallery for your purchase. Nobody forced you to buy anything. Because you have buyers remorse, you feel the need to blame everyone but yourself.

9 Feb 10
15:58 CET

V.I. ADLER, LOS ANGELES

Art is an emotional purchase, not a blu-ray disc player. Unfortunately, bad "art" dealers know nothing at all about art and they might as well be at the BestBuy. Nearly all art is purchased on vacation, when a couple is together to agree, at leisure, enjoying a fantasy "Celebrity" cruise (complete with papparazzi, no less) and just mix in alcohol and a slick clerk with a hard sell and no scholarship and that is a contrived "sting" set-up. Did you ever discuss art with a sales person at a Thomas Kincaid "Gallery" (I mean, poster shop?) Personally I wouldn't purchase a comic book if Bernard Ewell recommended it---but those poor folks trying to pack 365 days of frustration and work into 7-10 days of fun on a boat, with NOTHING ELSE to do on days at sea, are lambs to slaughter!

4 Feb 10
23:46 CET

THOMAS CHANNEL, NEW YORK

If you are going to buy art, especially at exorbitant prices, it is important to do actual research and be determined not to make impulsive purchases at auctions. Anyone who knows Dali's art realizes that even the experts have vastly different views on what is authentic and what isn't - and even they can't be certain of their own views. The whole industry surrounding Dali prints is a fiasco of politics and ego...and has resulted in this pissing match. Anyone involved with these groups of people, on either side, is not going to enjoy the outcome.

29 Jan 10
15:10 CET

GEORGE READ, CHARLESTON, SC

We have considerable experience in this area from our work with the FBI, the US Attorney's Office, and the Federal courts. The view that "...the buyers should have known better..." is a false construct. Serious, well-educated buyers often purchase fraudulent material on the art market. The question of why and how these buyers are so often and easily defrauded by the unscrupulous is something they will have to answer for themselves. This question is not germane, however, to the authenticity of the materials, nor to the prices paid for them. The first question will be decided, perhaps unsatisfactorily, by judges and juries based on the testimony of experts and specialists, who often disagree. The second question, of the prices paid for these materials, is likely to be unsettled. The law offers little on this question. In a free market, the "correct" price is what one can convince a buyer to pay. This principle applies equally to designer jewelry, ladies handbags - and art.

11 Jan 10
18:14 CET

V.I. ADLLER, LOS ANGELES

Also, you might ask for records of sales of the artist. You will probably find that Dali could not have possibly signed all of the art which Park West has attributed to him and sold unless he were chained to a chair for 50 years! Check with appraiser Dena Hall in Los Angeles who was the expert witness. An appraiser should be tested and certified by either AAA or ASA. I've known appraisers who offer their opinions based on photographs! You don't need a license in the US to be an appraiser nor an auctioneer in some states.

11 Jan 10
18:13 CET

V.I. ADLER, LOS ANGELES

On apparaisal: I'm not one--but i've spoken with many,icluding Bernard on occasion. As you are probably aware by now, an appraisal is NOT an authentication. An appraisal assumes that tetc., he provenance material provided is accurate. Since there are literally thousands of these objects, as well as Chagall, Miro, the appraiser gave his opinion based on the representation of the client-which should have included statements he relied on. He may perhaps not have been shown the same piece (s) which you purchased. He may have seen one documented piece and proffered his opinion on that. What Park West did with THAT appraisal is indeed another story. Check for dates, etc. I'm sorry that people think that smart (and rich) people can't be hood-winked with a bogus sales pitch. Most folks will not come forward and admit their credulity for fear of public embarrassment-they rely on that!

10 Jan 10
17:8 CET

SHARON DAY, LONDON, ENGLAND

To V I Adler - thank you for picking up on the "Too Much" money comments, you are spot on about the "proportionate" aspect. A victim I know of, who was in for a lot, lot less money, recently tried to take his own life - such was the devastating effect on him. I do take comfort though in the knowledge that various law enforcement agencies are investigating this for what it is. Fraud is fraud, it does not matter the amount defrauded, and fraud is not excused by caveat emptor.

10 Jan 10
17:8 CET

SHARON DAY, LONDON, ENGLAND

Thank you V. I Adler, your comments are helpful and useful. As it turns out, Nicholas Descharnes is one of our experts as well as Frank Hunter and Bill Flynn, a prominent handwriting expert who has also declared the signatures on our set as forged. Something that some of the posters here seem not to be aware of is that part of the documentation package supplied to us by Park West ("world's largest art gallery, 40-years in business, over a million customers", doing business on the Royal Caribbean Cruise line fleet) included the expert opinion of a Bernard Ewell with copies of his accreditation attached. It is interesting to note that these very official looking documents are relied upon by insurance companies, their underwriters and also by judges themselves - case in point, one of my co-plaintiffs who was awarded the artwork to dispose of in her divorce settlement.

9 Jan 10
18:6 CET

V. I ADLER, LOS ANGELES

Ms. Day, if you have not already done so, I suggest that you find the "Great Dali Art Caper and Other Frauds" book. A lot of the research and investigation--with names of people who can help you in the Los Angeles area is available in there. There are also court transcripts available from the Center Art Gallery Trial in Hawaii. One helpful idea would be to try and tie Park West with the purchase of the Dali Material sold at auction by the court. It's OK to make them provide their source (or provenance) of the art in "discovery" if the suit is brought in the US. If you can prove they knew the source was the auction,(and those "marked fraud" pieces) they may be found culpable. I'm not an attorney--just tired of this nonsense and elitist dealers thinking that you deserved to lose "Too Much" money- shame on their black hearts indeed!

9 Jan 10
18:6 CET

V.I. ADLER, LOS ANGELES

"Art Galleries" like Park West prey on the customer's insecurity. They display a lot of "trappings" in a pseudo-Salon atmosphere worthy of Duveen himself. Most people are not familiar with the concept that art is appraised pretty much like your used Camry or Ferrari. The cruise ship provides a context of luxury, authority and responsibility. They are known to host cocktail parties for the same reason that casinos giveaway their free adult beverages-to cause you to let down your guard and encourage your reliance on the representations and good faith of your host. These people like Park West feed on your insecurity and exploit your ignorance. A former head of a federal office and ND Law graduate purchased some of these things on a cruise with his girlfriend. He was extremely angry when he was informed that his "investment" did not have a re-sale value at public auction commensurate. Proportionately, his $14,000. loss was to him as devastating as this.

8 Jan 10
17:38 CET

IAN BERKE, SAN FRANCISCOI

Clearly the villains are the gallery and the cruise line, but the buyers are so lacking in commons sense that it staggers me. How do they function in real life? Ian

8 Jan 10
15:38 CET

STAN WOODARD, ATLANTA, GA

"Caveat emptor" (Let the buyer beware) is a warning at least as old as the Roman Empire. Any aware art buyer who hears from a gallerist that work is guaranteed to increase in value would go the other way. I have to assume that Day and Howard have too much money... so much in fact that they didn't avail themselves of the various art valuing resources. I'm not in the postition to spend fractions of millions on art work, but I'm smart enough to do comparison shopping when making any substantive purchase. This reminds me of the idiots who got upset when their Thomas Kincaid purchases turned out to be nearly valueless. So-called collectors who buy art work only to try and make a killing a few months later should prepare themselves for disappointment. I'm not sure of the details -- whether Park West acted fraudulently or not -- but I do know that the claimants didn't do their own due diligence! And for Mr. Phillips, there is no equating this so called art fraud with street crime!

8 Jan 10
15:38 CET

ANN MORROW, CUMMING, GA

Having been in the art business many years I was interested to hear the sales pitch when we were on one of these cruises. They definitely imply that what ever you purchase will be more valuable later. Unfortunately many buyers don't realize that you can purchase great works of original art for these prices. Hard sell outfits like this and the sofa size painting sales are in the same catagory in my book,Bad news.

8 Jan 10
15:38 CET

SHARON DAY, LONDON, ENGLAND

No research? Actually, that is an incorrect statement. More to the point, how much research does one do into the fraudulent business practices or the sale of fake diamonds if purchasing a diamond from Tiffany's? The fact is that "caveat emptor", or any variation on that theme, does not apply to fraud or misrepresentation. If it did, Bernie Madoff would not be in jail. Forged signatures being represented and sold as authentic amounts to fraud and the systematic perpetration of this fraudulent activity likely amounts to racketeering - we will have to see . . .

8 Jan 10
1:56 CET

V I ADLER, LOS ANGELES

I suggest that you find a copy of the Great Dali Art Fraud, if you haven't already. Dali signed blank paper! Also the Center Art Gallery in Hawaii was caused, by the federal court, to sell all of the crap of course marked somewhere.... as fraudulent. All of this stuff sold and there are still dealers re-selling this crap. I have personally observed the crap sold by Park West on international cruises and yes it's all crap. The interesting thing is that if the art is being sold as a commodity--with a promise of increase or buyback, then it is governed by fraud laws. Most of these people target professionals, such as doctors and advertise in medical journals. Descharnes history is also in the book. I would think that Royal Carribean and Celebrity are responsible for whom they bring on board and expose to their clientele. After all this is supposed to be an elite experience and you are supposed to trust someone you pay to take you to the middle of the ocean, right?

7 Jan 10
19:37 CET

JOHN, ROCHESTER HILLS

Auction, Retail or Private Purchase does it matter? Most people research the product or item they are purchasing wether it be a $100 Blu-Ray player to a New House. You made a $500,000 purchase without researching it. That's not a con or fraud... That's financial irresponsibility on your part and now you are screaming that you are a victim! Well you are.... of your own ignorance! Retail Sales is a business and as any business they will sell for the highest price the consumer is willing to pay. My only advice is stay away from Ocean front property in Arizona.

7 Jan 10
18:58 CET

SHARON DAY, LONDON

Hey, Clem... DUH! The set wasn't purchased at auction, nor were the three prints. I should know.

7 Jan 10
18:33 CET

DAVID PHILLIPS, SEATTLE, WA

Clement Moore, you are right of course, that the buyer should take responsibility for buying something. So should the person who gets mugged in the street, the person who is given poisonous drugs and every victim of everything. That does not excuse the con artist, the mugger, the psychiatrist or any criminal who decides to make a victim of someone. There are two sides to the story. In this case there is widespread fraud where gallery and cruise line are in collusion and the idea is to put an end to the practice. Your post is just a knee-jerk reaction without considering the wider picture. The Art Newspaper article is a very needed warning to the art buying public.

7 Jan 10
17:49 CET

CLEMENT MOORE, CAMBRIDGE, MASS

Seriously? Do we have to babysit lawyers at art auctions now? It is an auction. The guy at the podium works to drive the prices up, attendants work to keep the price down. Just because these spendthrift bozos saunter in and overpay for art-we should worry about them? Anyone who goes to auctions understands the art of the auction. I bought a three legged couch once-I paid to have it moved-I didn't blame the auction house, I took responsibility for my actions and said-"I made a bad decision. Boy, I sure was taken on that one." This is how it goes in the auction world. Over the years I have made terrific gains overall in my auction investments, but as I mentioned, I have taken some hits. If you need a warranty, or a guarantee what the hell are you going to an auction for anyway? Go to a GALLERY. And stop slobbering on and on about your having overpaid for a blasted Dali.

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