Art Dealers Donald Smith and Emma Poole Flee to France After Being Investigated for Theft and Fraud
They allegedly owe up to $781,000 to artists and collectors whose works they sold.
Police are investigating claims of fraud and theft surrounding the gallery Opus Art in Stow-on-the-Wold, in Gloucestershire, England where dealers Donald Smith and Emma Poole sold works by a range of contemporary artists, including YBA’s Damien Hirst and Marc Quinn, and Pop legend Andy Warhol.
The Independent reports that the dealers recently sold their gallery and moved to a 47-acre property in a village in the south of France with their family.
Gloucestershire Police launched an investigation and raided the gallery’s storage space after receiving a number of complaints from artists and collectors claiming they had never received proceeds from the sale of their works through the gallery.
“Police have seized a large number of works and assets previously held by the company,” a police spokesperson said. “Investigations are ongoing to establish ownership of the seized property and what specific criminal offences have been committed. We will seek to bring any perpetrators of fraud or theft in this case to justice, and in due course to reunite the works with their owners.”
The dealers’ biggest fraud victim is Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, who runs Rise Gallery in south London, and who bought Opus Art from Donald Smith and Emma Poole in April for “a six-figure sum.” The share transfer, however, never materialized.
“Don approached me on my wedding day last year telling me he and Emma wanted to retire to France and whether I was interested in buying their gallery,” Zuchowski-Morrison told the Independent. “I was, thinking I could eventually incorporate Opus into Rise, so we began negotiations later. As I soon as I signed the deal, however, things went very wrong.”
Zuchowski-Morrison told the Independent he soon discovered that Opus Art had amassed a £15,000 credit card debt, plus a £15,000 overdraft. He also began receiving numerous complaints from people demanding money from artworks they claimed Smith and Poole had sold for them.
“I inherited a gallery manager who was extremely upset at everything, Zuchowski-Morrison said. “The invoice demands were flowing in—totaling at least half a million pounds ($781,000)—from a lot of irate people. I feel like a naive fool now.”
Donald Smith is no stranger to controversy. In 2002, he was part of the venture Eyestorm.com, an online art gallery that went bankrupt, piling debts of £18.5 million ($29 million). The Independent reports that Damien Hirst was owed £78,000 ($122,000) by Eyestorm at the time it collapsed, and that Jeff Koons and Helmut Newton were also owed thousands of pounds.
In 2005, Smith and Poole launched Opus Art, self-styled as “North’s premier contemporary art gallery,” in Newcastle. They transferred it to the Cotswolds in November 2013.
According to the Independent, artworks recently advertised for sale by Opus include the silver sculpture The Sacred Heart (2005) by Hirst. The gallery’s website seems to have been taken down at the moment.
Meanwhile, the gallery’s eBay page, Opus Underground, still active despite the ongoing criminal investigation, is currently listing 88 works for sale, including a Newton print for £1,536 ($2,400), a Warhol open edition Marilyn screenprint for £420 ($655), and a mixed media on canvas piece by Dan Baldwin for £8,400 ($13,000).
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