MANHATTAN (CN) – Over three months after the disgraced art dealer pleaded guilty, Ezra Chowaiki faces a lawsuit from a gallery that is demanding the return of two Dali paintings and one work by Juan Gris.
“This case arises out of one of the most massive art-fraud scandals to rock the art world in recent memory,” says The Art Collection Inc., which filed suit on Aug. 15 in Manhattan Supreme Court.
Represented by Malcom Taub of the firm Davidhoff, Hutcher and Citron, The Art Collection says Chowaiki has ignored its requests to return to its possession “Le Compotier” by Gris and two works by Salvador Dali: “A Work on Paper” and “Clown Moven Quatre Visages.” The latter painting could be the 1976 work “Clown Mou en Quatre Visages,” which Christie’s reports having sold in 2007 for more than $271,000. Artnet notes that there are at least two paintings by Gris with the title “Le Compotier.” One sold in 2015 at a closed auction, the other in 2013.
The complaint does not specify when but it says The Art Collection consigned important artworks to Chowaiki and has not received any money for the works.
Though it does not know who took possession of the two Dalis from Chowaiki, The Art Collection says “Le Compotier” was transferred to David Benrimon Fine Art.
In addition to Chowaiki, the Benrimon gallery and Benrimon himself are named as defendants.
None of the parties have returned emails seeking comment. The Art Collection says it requested the return of its artworks prior to their transfer.
“The artworks were in fact converted by Chowaiki and Chowaiki & Co. from Plaintiff and/or Chowaiki and Chowaiki & Co. breached their contracts with Plaintiff,” the complaint states.
The Art Collection also claims that it told Benrimon specifically, “prior to the time that the Benrimon Painting was transferred to the Benrimon Defendants, … that he owned the Benrimon Painting; that Plaintiff had demanded that Chowaiki and Chowaiki & Co. return that painting to it and that the Benrimon Defendants should not pay either Chowaiki or Chowaiki & Co. anything for such painting since they belonged to Plaintiff and not Chowaiki or Chowaiki & Co.”
Chowaiki faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty in May to defrauding art dealers and collectors of $16 million from about 2015 to 2017.
“In some instances, Chowaiki sold artwork, purportedly on consignment, without the owners’ authorization,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a statement at the time. “In other instances, he took money from clients purportedly to purchase artwork, and kept the money but purchased no art.”
Chowaiki founded his Park Avenue gallery in 2004 but the gallery filed for bankruptcy and was taken over by a trustee to oversee its liquidation last year.