Lisa Schiff’s Art Could Be Liquidated to Settle Her Debts. Attorneys Are Squabbling Over What It’s Worth
Two paintings by Ann Craven are at the center of the latest tussle in the ongoing legal battle.
Attorneys are locking horns over whether certain artworks can or should be offered for sale to settle some of the massive debts Lisa Schiff incurred before her once high-flying art advisory business imploded this spring.
The most recent flurry of competing motions centers on a disagreement between Schiff’s attorney, John Cahill, and the attorney assigned to oversee creditor claims, Douglas Pick, over whether two six-figure paintings by Ann Craven should be sold. Craven is a sought-after artist known for her lush depictions of birds, flowers, trees, and other nature scenes.
Schiff, who had long been a visible presence on the international contemporary art scene, was forced to shutter her business almost immediately in May when her former friend and top client Candace Barasch alleged that Schiff had failed to remit $1.8 million owed on the resale of an Adrian Ghenie painting. Other clients then came forward alleging similar improprieties; things escalated quickly after that.
Cahill opposed the sale of the Craven paintings, writing that the reasons for his objection are “manifold,” in an October 24 filing in New York State Supreme Court.
One of the paintings, titled Moon (3-18-12, After White St, 2-26-12, 10:30 PM, Mirrored), aka “Moon Painting” is Schiff’s personal property. “The ‘Moon Painting’ is now, and always has been, owned by Ms. Schiff personally,” according to the filing. Pick “knows this and has known it for some time,” Cahill asserted.
But Pick fired back in a filing today (October 25), noting that Cahill fails to address that Schiff has been accused of “having wrongly diverted and/or personally profited from the improper use of client proceeds and/or client proceeds derived from sale of clients’ artwork, [and] that an investigation has been commenced,” by U.S. authorities including the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the New York District Attorney.
Pick continued, “the underlying facts of this assignment proceeding reflect that it is unclear to ‘whose monies’ were used to acquire ‘what paintings.’ Respectfully, Ms. Schiff would be better served by working with the Assignee to maximize a distribution to creditors rather than filing frivolous objections.”
Cahill said he sent Pick separate lists of property including detailed descriptions of artworks based on what was owned individually by Schiff Fine Art LLC, Schiff herself, and her young son. Cahill pointed out that the father of Schiff’s son is an artist and that from time to time since his birth, Schiff and he had received various artworks as gifts from artists.
Cahill alleges that Pick “has not only refused to release property…but has unlawfully withheld it, converted it, and, recently, begun to sell it.”
The Moon Painting was sold to Schiff personally in 2018 by the Karma gallery on the Lower East Side, according to the filing. Cahill notes that the invoice includes a charge for sales tax, which would not have been payable if it was sold to her company because it has resale certificate, exempting it from sales tax.
Cahill also argues that the valuations for the two Craven paintings are too low: “Put simply, [Pick] is offering to sell for $140,000 two paintings that Karma itself appears to value for more than $300,000.”
Cahill also noted that another, smaller painting of birds by Ann Craven, I Wasn’t Sorry (2003), sold in May 2022 from the prestigious Doris and Thomas Amman collection at Christie’s New York for an artist’s record $680,000.
Cahill and Pick declined to comment. Karma did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The legal wrangling reflects the complicated nature of the case, including the need to balance transparency about assets while sorting out creditor claims, with protecting privileged information and complying with the ongoing investigations.
Pick also drilled down on the purported distinction between payments from business versus personal accounts and credit cards. “Assuming for the sake of discussion that Ms. Schiff was simultaneously buying artwork both in the corporate name and her own name, her conduct raises the specter of breach of fiduciary duties to the corporate creditors, unfair competition, alter ego, and/or fraud.”
In one filing by Pick, Jack Mur, a senior advisory department director at Winston Art Group, submitted an affidavit in support of selling both Moon, and another Craven painting, Pink Canary (Stepping out, on Pink, Sunset).
Mur said that Winston and Pick have together made “extensive efforts to market the Paintings to potential purchasers,” with their efforts including publishing a notice of sale in ARTnews magazine and soliciting competitive auction proposals, as well as sending an e-mail “blast” to 273 art professionals it believes were likely to have an interest in the paintings.
The original confidential invoice re: Moon Painting included a three-year period resale clause under which Karma gallery would have a right of first refusal to buy the works back if Schiff were to resell them. Karma currently has a $140,000 offer out for the work though court papers stipulate that higher offers will be considered.
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