Ace Gallery Fires Doug Chrismas Over Millions in Suspicious Transfers of Money and Art

What's next for the disgraced dealer?

Los Angeles dealer Douglas Chrismas’s long-running questionable financial dealings have sparked a complicated bankruptcy case in which creditors have leveled numerous charges against the Ace Gallery founder, including “avoidance, recovery, and preservation of fraudulent transfers,” according to recent court filings.

Now, a forensic accountant who runs the daily operations at Ace Gallery is firing Chrismas, according to a detailed report by Jori Finkel in the The Art Newspaper. Accountant Sam Leslie submitted a status report to US Bankruptcy Court in LA stating that “millions of dollars [were] diverted to mysterious accounts and dozens of works of art that have been moved to private storage.”

Leslie had previously discussed keeping Chrismas on as “some sort of curatorial consultant,” but ended his involvement on May 10, after a review of the gallery’s financial records, which, he says, revealed “significant sums of money were diverted by Chrismas to affiliates of Douglas Chrismas.”

From February 2013 to February 2016, a total of just under $17 million was directed to Ace New York, and of that, $4.6 million was diverted to an entity called the Ace Museum. Both entities “are a mystery,” TAN  notes, “since Chrismas closed the New York branch of his gallery over a decade ago and his ‘museum’ on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles has a spotty exhibition history.”

Samuel Bayer's exhibition opening, presented by Panavision at Ace Gallery on March 2, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. Courtesy of Mike Windle/Getty Images for Ace Gallery.

Samuel Bayer’s exhibition opening, presented by Panavision, at Ace Gallery on March 2, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. Courtesy of Mike Windle/Getty Images for Ace Gallery.

Chrismas’s financial dealings have been a mystery for years, however. A 2003 article in LA Weekly notes that Chrismas’s rent for the space in Beverly Hills was “$39,811.50 per month, plus $42,000 per year for an additional space Chrismas rents on the 11th floor” of Desmond’s Department Store Building on Wilshire Boulevard. The article continues, “Given the size and location of his other galleries, one assumes those rents must be comparable, which raises the obvious question: How on earth does he pay for it all?”

A day before Leslie assumed his accounting role, Chrismas instructed assistants to move 60 artworks from Ace Gallery to a private storage facility. In April, Finkel wrote for the New York Times that De Wain Valentine, among other high-profile artists, have been greatly affected by the bankruptcy proceedings.

An attorney for painter Gary Lang told TAN that concealing assets in a bankruptcy could result in criminal charges, stating that Chrismas has “painted himself into a corner.”

We reached out to Chrismas’s attorney, David Shemano, for comment. He emailed the following statement to artnet News: Chrismas “is currently reviewing the status report and cooperating however Mr. Leslie requests, including working with Mr. Leslie to confirm whether certain artwork belongs to the Gallery or Mr. Chrismas personally.  Mr. Chrismas is currently focusing his time on bringing Mr. Leslie a transaction that will monetize the Gallery’s real estate assets to pay creditors.  He is unaware of any criminal investigation or any basis for a criminal investigation.”

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