Jonah Salander, the gallerist’s son, lunging at a news photographer.
(Photo: Chip East/Bloomberg News/Landov)
By JAMES BARRON
Published: March 26, 2009
A once-prominent art dealer was arrested on Thursday on an indictment charging that he stole $88 million from investors, collectors and artists who had consigned paintings and sculpture to his Upper East Side gallery, the authorities said.
The Manhattan district attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, said the dealer, Lawrence B. Salander, sometimes sold the same painting to more than one buyer. Aides to Mr. Morgenthau said Mr. Salander sold one painting to three people, promising each a 50 percent share.
“Why sell it once when you can sell it three times?” Mr. Morgenthau said at a news conference called to announce a 100-count indictment accusing Mr. Salander of grand larceny, falsifying business records, scheming to defraud investors, forging documents and perjury.
Mr. Morgenthau said the charges covered transactions with 26 victims going back to 1994, among them the tennis star John McEnroe. Mr. Morgenthau said the investigation was continuing, raising the possibility that the extent of the theft could climb. One official with direct knowledge of the investigation said the authorities believed that Mr. Salander’s take actually exceeded $100 million.
Prop styling by Naila Ruechel.
(Photo: Hans Gissinger)
An Old Master in Ruins
Why is an El Greco worth less than a Koons? Gallerist Larry Salander called it a moral travesty, and decided, catastrophically, to do something about it.
By James Panero
Published Mar 24, 2008
The art dealer Larry Salander is ready to erupt. He puffs up, expanding his chest like a bellows. He presses his mouth shut. He squeezes his tongue against his palate and engorges his cheeks, his upper lip already damp with perspiration and a few molecules of lunch. Finally, with nostrils flared, he explodes.
“Our society now values a Warhol for three times as much money as a great Rembrandt,” he thunders, referring to the latest auction reports. “That tells me that we’re fucked. It’s as if people would rather fuck than make love.”
He says the last sentence slowly, emphasizing each word.
“That’s the difference between the Warhol and the Rembrandt,” Salander continues. “Being with Rembrandt is like making love. And being with Warhol is like fucking.”
Salander and I are just finishing a lunch of pasta fresca in the eat-in kitchen of his Upper East Side home. Now on the market for $25 million, the townhouse—almost a palace— is decorated with paint imported from Venice and fifteenth-century Sienese tiles. It reflects Salander’s eclectic taste, with African sculpture and American tonalist landscapes mixed in among the Canalettos. In the next room, Salander has inlaid a marble floor with the phases of the moon.
An aesthete with no formal art education (nor even a college degree), Salander built his art empire, Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, on native artistic empathy and an intensity of will. “He is a very unusual combination of street vitality and aesthetic refinement,” says Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic and a close friend of Salander’s who wrote catalogue essays for the gallery. “He’s a street kid who’s read Ruskin. I don’t know anybody else who so naturally recognizes the brutality of the world but lives in such a fine way.”
Artists, actors, critics, and buyers responded to his gravitational pull. When I visited Salander in Venice during the opening of the Biennale last June, he was a character in need of a Balzac, a prophet and a gambler who seemed to walk across the water of the Venetian lagoon. He spoke about Titian and Tintoretto as if they were close friends and skipped the contemporary art of the Biennale altogether. As we returned from the island of Burano, where we’d had dinner with his friend Robert De Niro, Salander said to me, “Art is the human attempt to make one plus one equal more than two.”
But Salander made a critical miscalculation. Over the last few years, he had been trying to apply his passion and alchemy to correcting what he saw to be a dangerous inversion of the art market. To Salander, many contemporary art collectors are philistines. But if he could use his gallery to create a new market for old-master and Renaissance art, perhaps he could shift the paradigms of the international art trade.
It was an intriguing idea, but it left him in ruin. On the opening evening of a show he hoped would electrify the market, angry investors closed down his multimillion-dollar gallery. A restraining order prevented Salander from entering the gallery or selling art anywhere in the world. He now faces a criminal investigation and lawsuits from investors who say they were abused, collectors who say they didn’t get what they paid for, and artists who say they never got paid. He could be upwards of $100 million in debt. As our lunch filled the afternoon, Salander spoke for the first time about his plan to rescue the art world from bad taste, and how it ultimately destroyed him.