Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Brave Face

After a quarter-century of prosperity and increasing luxury, Americans at the top-end of the economic ladder are becoming more and more familiar with the daily facts of life faced by more downscale debtors: default, bankruptcy, foreclosure, receivership, etc. Add the Berry-Hill Gallery in Manhattan to the list: after the gallery defaulted on a $9.5 million debt, the lender has moved in and started seizing assets, namely the gallery's paintings: Manhattan Gallery's Artworks Are Seized

Representatives of a lender seized artworks from Berry-Hill Galleries, a well-known American art specialist on Manhattan's Upper East Side, after a judge found the gallery had defaulted on a debt of $9.5 million.

As people from the gallery and the bank, American Capital Financial Services, congregated Tuesday on the first floor of the gallery's stately townhouse, handlers carried the artworks, primarily paintings, down the street toward Fifth Avenue, where they deposited them into two large moving trucks.

Berry-Hill's latest troubles come at a time when a number of New York galleries are struggling amid the recession. Nearly two dozen galleries in the city have closed amid the art-market downturn, including blue-chip spaces on the Upper East Side such as Salander O'Reilly Gallery and grittier warehouse spaces like Bellwether in Chelsea and Rivington Arms on the Lower East Side.

But, you have to admire the never-say-die, grace under pressure of gallery chairman James Berry Hill who calmly explained that all of this was a big misunderstanding, and would you please stop using ugly words like "seized?"

In an interview Tuesday, the Berry-Hill gallery's chairman, James Berry Hill, denied that the works were being repossessed.

As workers from Cirkers Fine Art Storage & Logistics removed the art from his gallery, Mr. Hill said: "We're sending stuff to our warehouse" to make way for a new one-person show. When asked whether the artwork was being seized by the bank, Mr. Hill replied: "The word 'seized' is not a word I would use," adding that he found the term "draconian."

"We just had a meeting. We are negotiating to get this resolved," Mr. Hill said. He described the meeting as amicable, and added, "We are negotiating to pay the bank in full."

That's the spirit! Scarlett O'Hara couldn't have put it better.

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