Australian art dealer goes on the run after allegedly ripping off emerging artists

He hasn’t been seen for weeks. According to people familiar with the matter, art dealer Tristian Koenig, once co-owner of the Neon Parc gallery in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, has a reputation for finding excuses not to pay its artists. (Koenig is no longer associated with Neon Park after he and his partner fell out, The arts journal has learned.)

Now, Koenig has missed several hearings at the Magistrates’ Court in Victoria, which as a result has issued a warrant for his arrest. According to an article first published in age in december last year, Koenig had a creative way of dodging artists he owed money to. He would offer excuses, including sick family members, bike spills or that he had been bitten by a spider, in order to delay paying off his debts. Often, when he did end up paying the artists, he did so by depositing a lump sum into their accounts, without specifying which works he had sold.

Months, if not years, would pass before the artists represented by Koenig would see the money from the sales. age reports that, like many before him, Koenig was good with people, especially young artists fresh out of school. He would describe himself as a mentor who could help them move from low-key group shows to commercial galleries and art fairs.

If the works did not sell after an exhibition at his eponymous gallery in Melbourne, he would be as inscrutable with the painting as he was with the money from the works that found a buyer. In some cases, artists have taken it upon themselves to recover their missing works. Two artists, after discovering that some of their work was hanging in Koenig’s house which was for sale, entered the house on a self-guided tour and simply removed their work from the walls and walked out the front door. hall.

In another incident, when artist Daniel Noonan visited Koenig’s gallery to collect unsold works and his share of some sales, he found his paintings packed up and waiting for him, but Koenig was nowhere to be found. When Noonan looked for Koenig in the back office, he “saw that Koenig had climbed into a crawl space in the ceiling. “I shouted, ‘Tristian, come down, I need to talk to you. I could see her ass sticking out of the manhole. He wouldn’t come down.

In 2018, Andre Hemer, an artist to whom Koenig owed money, asked Alana Kushnir for helpart lawyer, is the founder and director of Guest Work Agency and senior researcher for Serpentine’s Legal Lab. Kushnir took the case pro bono. Hemer referred Kushnir to another artist who was allegedly robbed by the dealer the following year. Today, she represents six artists to whom Koenig owes money, artwork, or both, all on a pro bono basis. There are others, according to sources familiar with the matter, but some have refused to pursue the matter.

It was Kushnir, along with Chip LeGrand, the chief reporter of the Sydney Morning Herald and agewho investigated the missing works and LeGrand who published their findings, along with accounts of Koenig’s exploits and a gallery of some of the missing paintings, in age in December last year. As a result of the story, 23 of the at least 50 missing works have been found thanks to collectors who have come forward after reading the article. But there are many more missing paintings and money to be refunded.

A follow-up story published by the Herald says Victoria Police were at least once able to contact Koenig by phone and collectors joined the campaign against him in court. Among them is Los Angeles collector and dealer Stefan Simchowitz, who consigned a number of works which Koenig later sold, but never received his 15% commission. Sources say Koenig was last seen in Melbourne “a few weeks ago” and further attempts by police to contact him at his home were unsuccessful.

“I’m proud of my clients for speaking up about this issue,” Kushnir said. “Unfortunately, this is not an isolated event in Australia, as it is in the art world globally. Most of the galleries here do the right thing and pay their artists. However, it is easy that “misconduct slips through the cracks when there is a lack of accountability at the industry level. Currently, there is no active, global industry body for shopping malls that sets ethical standards on how they should operate. The Australian Commercial Galleries Association was disbanded a few years ago. I fear we will see serious consequences of this decision unfolding now.

About Margaret L. Portillo

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