British Art Dealers Flee to France, Owe Tens of Thousands to Buyers, Artists

It's the second time a gallery run by dealer Donald Smith has apparentely gone belly up

Damien Hirst’s 'The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.' (AFP Photo/Doug Kanter)

Damien Hirst’s ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.’ (AFP Photo/Doug Kanter)

A pair of British art dealers appear to have abandoned their gallery in scenic Gloucestershire, England, after running up a slew of debts to artists, other dealers and private citizens. The pair has decamped to the south of France, the Independent reported.

Donald Smith and Emma Poole sold the Opus Art gallery in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, for a “six-figure sum,” according to would-be buyer Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison. The hitch? They never actually transferred the business or deed and in the interim racked up tens of thousands in debts, the paper said. Mr. Zuchowski-Morrison had hoped to integrate his London gallery and the Opus. “However, things went very wrong,” he told the Independent.

The Opus, which has sold the works of such blockbuster artists as Damien Hirst and Andy Warhol, owes over $300,000 to creditors, records reportedly show, and U.K. authorities have seized works from its extension gallery hoping to help make whole the many people who have lodged complaints so far.

Meanwhile, the slew of complaints from the new owner, buyers owed money or work and artists whose work was never returned by the gallery continues to pile up. Authorities are still seeking anyone else who is owed money.

Photographer Nick Tucker is supposedly missing about $23,000 worth of art; artist Rosie Emerson said she had heard numerous claims from people who said they had paid Opus for artworks they did not receive.

To make matters worse, this is not Mr. Smith’s first brush with financial difficulty, either. When a previous venture, the London-based Eyestorm Gallery, went bust in 2002, it owed more than $20 million in debts to artists like Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, the newspaper noted.

British Art Dealers Flee to France, Owe Tens of Thousands to Buyers, Artists