Park West sued by customers

Plaintiffs demand refunds for “fake” works as gallery dismisses “smear campaign”

MICHIGAN. Park West Gallery, which says it sells 300,000 works annually and earns more than $300m in annual art sales revenue, including through auctions on 85 cruise ships, has been sued by ten customers seeking refunds.

According to the complaint, filed in state court in Oakland County, Michigan, on 23 December, the gallery has refused to refund hundreds of thousands of dollars in purchase prices allegedly collectively paid by the plaintiffs for works by Dalí, Rembrandt and others. The art “was later found by experts to either be fake or have forged signatures, or to be heavily overpriced and misrepresented as bargains and investments”, the plaintiffs’ lawyers, Kaufman Payton & Chapa of Farmington Hills, Michigan, said in a statement on 8 January.

Park West, which is based in Southfield, Michigan, and is headed by Albert Scaglione, dismisses the allegations as false and malicious, and says that the suit is meritless.

“Over the past 40 years, Park West Gallery has served more than 1.2 million satisfied customers,” the gallery said in a statement on 9 January. “We stand behind the authenticity of everything we sell.” The gallery said the lawsuit was “organised to advance the business interests” of an organisation, Fine Art Registry, which Park West sued for defamation in Florida and Michigan in April 2008, citing material on the FAR website that is critical of the gallery. FAR’s assertions are “baseless,” says Rodger Young, the gallery’s lawyer in Southfield, Michigan.

In the defamation complaint, Park West says that FAR and its founder, Theresa Franks, have engaged in a “smear campaign” seeking to harm its business relationships with customers and its reputation. The gallery is seeking damages and an injunction against further defamatory statements.

FAR describes itself as offering “advocacy to victims of art fraud and abuse”, and offers members a system of tagging and registering art. Eight of the plaintiffs in the Michigan lawsuit are FAR members. Jonathan Schwartz, who represents the ten plaintiffs, and is also a lawyer for FAR and two individuals named in the defamation cases, told The Art Newspaper that the defamation suits were attempts by Park West to “prevent our clients from voicing legitimate criticism of Park West’s allegedly questionable business practices, and actions”. He said his clients “refuse to be bullied into submission by Park West”, and would show that “everything they may have written, or uttered has been the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”.

In June 2008, Park West was sued in a consumer class action suit in federal court in Florida by David Bouverat, who says he bought art from Park West on a cruise. Mr Bouverat, who alleges violation of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and other claims, says that appraisals that the gallery provided were based on Park West Gallery’s price for the art, not a replacement price “from some unknown reputable retail art gallery”. The case is continuing, according to Mr Bouverat’s lawyer, Shawn Khorrami of Los Angeles.

In the Michigan case, the ten plaintiffs allege that they paid amounts ranging from $7,000 to over $400,000 to Park West to buy one or more works represented to be by Goya, Marc Chagall, Dürer, Tomasz Rut and other artists, purportedly including etchings by Rembrandt and lithographs by Salvador Dalí. The transactions included purchases at cruise ship auctions and at Park West’s Michigan gallery, the allegations say. The plaintiffs say that they received certificates of authenticity and in a number of cases appraisals, and were also told in a number of cases that the art would go up in value over time. Instead, the complaint alleges, much of it is “worthless”, purportedly including in one case “images removed from an art magazine” and in other cases “digital prints which were nothing more than glorified posters”. The complaint alleges that the plaintiffs are not sophisticated art buyers, and relied on the representations the gallery made to them.

Among the plaintiffs, lawyers Sharon Day and Julian Howard of London say that they bought a set of Dalí’s “Divine Comedy” prints from Park West and paid $422,601.50 in March 2008 for the art, with Royal Caribbean Cruise line receiving a share of the money. They have also sued the cruise line. The plaintiffs allege that while Park West provided an appraisal of $510,000 for the art, experts allegedly determined in December that the series was worthless and that the signatures were faked.

The plaintiffs are also seeking an injunction preventing the gallery’s sale of “allegedly signed Salvador Dalí lithographs” and resales of the art, which they dispute. The complaint alleges violations of the Michigan Warranty in Fine Arts Statute and Consumer Protection Act, fraud and breach of contract.

Park West’s response in the case was to be filed by the end of January as we went to press.

In September 2008, the gallery announced an “enhanced” returns policy, offering price refunds within 40 days or merchandise exchanges within 40 months.

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Comments

29 Mar 13
15:15 CET

DELLA, SPRINGFIELD

I purchased art that I liked and could afford. I enjoyed the auctions and staff and learning more about the artists I liked. I do not consider my purchases as investments, they are more like furniture or decor.

14 Feb 12
18:13 CET

MICHELE, KELLER

I can't believe what some of you are writing. I did NOT get taken by some hairy leg salesman poolside, the art director that sold me my fake Dali was (and is currently) selling for Sotheby's. A name that is recognizeable along with the fact that in 2006 Park West's name was impeccable. How rude of you guys to "assume" and make false statements. A lot of us have been taken. I love the "look" of my Dali & purchased it due to the Look, but wanted something real and not fake. The experts on Holland America, (The Sotheby's Gentleman along with the one Representative from Disney are still in the business and work for are still considered legitimate places) I'm angry at how rude some of these comments are....

15 Jun 11
13:16 CET

ENA AND FRED KEITH, VILLA HILLS,KY

We purchased art, Rembrandt and Dali, A signed print of Mahaummad Ali with sonny liston and Piccaso from South West Gallery and we too have been taken. How do we get involved in the lawsuit? My husband is a attorney and we want to get our money back because the art is WORTHLESS

12 Feb 11
16:42 CET

MARIE ALVARADO, AUSTIN

My husband and I were married in Galveston,TX on the ship Rapsody of the Sea in 2002. We purchased 9 prints and what I am really angry about is WHY no one either Park West nor Royal Carribean contacted us of this fraud?! I found out when I was looking at the value of Perez,since he died, to give to a charity auction! Why did no one notify me?! I want in on the suite! NOW! Someone help me!

25 Jun 10
2:39 CET

V.I. ADLER, LOS ANGELES

Bernard does not seem to have a clue how to use a loupe! He should be sanctioned by ASA for using his appraisal status to justify his bogus "Dali Detective" persona. I would sooner call bob Wittman a wit!

1 Jun 10
17:21 CET

CHRIS, BROOKLYN

Cruise ship art auctions are very slick shows to be enjoyed for what the fast talkers don't say as well as imply. No one should expect to buy quality art between the pool-side hairy leg contest and bingo game than to hit it big on the casino slots.

20 Apr 10
15:29 CET

AL SCRAGLIONE, MICHIGAN

All Parkwest auctions are a rip off for customners and employees alike. They are crooks. There are 8 class action lawsuits currently. They should be closed down.

18 Jan 10
21:13 CET

BLAKE, CHICAGO

Park West Gallery is nothing more than a glorified con game. Fake prints and forged signatures are their hallmark, and they specifically choose cruise lines as their partners in crime because being in international waters makes enforcement a challenge. Experts have proven their art to be bogus and former employees have come forward to detail the fraud. Yet cruise line customers still line up to bid on worthless crap. Disney recognized these confidence men for what they are and tossed them off their ships. Hopefully, other cruise lines will stop being complicit in scamming their passengers.

13 Jan 10
15:21 CET

CRUISE SNOB, NEW YORK

Stop trying to fund your retirment by purchasing stuff on vacation. If the resale value was so astronomical that it's considered high investment grade. Don't you think the cruise ships would always sell full, booked years in advance at the full brochure price only with people looking to invest in art? If you see something you like, be it Jewelry or art, and the price is affordable to you,by all means buy it because you like it and want to hang it in your house. Not to make back the money you spent on vacation. I've similarly been hearing that there will be no more Tanzeinte left in a decade for over 25 years. 99 percent of all Diamonds in the carib jewelery stores comes from New YourK city. Why does it take so much time to actually board a ship? Because the line is for you to have a picture taken. The second you step on they start try and sell you stuff.

18 Nov 09
16:0 CET

GARY, LEEDS, ENGLAND

I have seen them in action on several occasions on different ships. Their shows, or auctions, as they like to call them , are a fine piece of entertainment and I try not to miss them Having said that anyone spending hundreds of £s or $s with them has only themselves to blame and should seek psychiatric assistance

20 Sep 09
14:14 CET

ANTHONY VRAKOTAS, MONTREAL

"Caveat Emptor" Or buyer beware. It doesn't matter how many times it is said, adults seem to always forget the responsibility they have for their own decisions. Who's responsibility is it to research the value/quality of any sales item. Do you think any company is in it to help people fill their lives with quality and beauty? They are their to make money, and the better they are the greater the markup of what they are selling. If people are willing to so easily part with their money in a bid to "invest" in art, then they deserve it. I for one, buy art only if I like it. The artists I like I research and any purchase I make is with the utmost research and investigation. But, if you like a work, then you always win. If it is just and "investment" then play on wall street and see if those businesses are more forthcoming and less profit minded. Now, I am not defending any illegal practices or dishonesty, but, I like to respect human beings and put the onus on each of us to be able to make a smart decision.

20 Sep 09
14:14 CET

CONSTANCE PECKHAM, TUCSON

My husband and I have taken several cruises with WindStar. On the last cruise we were subjected to Park West marketing their 'art'. I felt sorry for the nieve and vulnerable passengers being hyped this clearly overpriced stuff and we were very put off having to be subjected to it. On a ship, one is a captive audience...what better 'hot box' sales environment? Yucky and distasteful. Cruise lines need to consider how this association with Park West diminishes their credibility. While we loved WindStar, we hated the 'art' sales!

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