CB1 Gallery, which began life in a storefront space at the downtown L.A. intersection of 5th and Spring streets in 2010 and now inhabits a more polished Arts District space on Santa Fe Avenue, will shut its doors next month.
“Unfortunately, expanding into the current space along with the slow sales that followed created cash flow issues,” gallery co-founder Clyde Beswick said via email in response to an inquiry from The Times. “Given our cash flow and slow sales, in late March we made the difficult decision to close the gallery. CB1 will close at the end of our current exhibition.”
Those cash-flow issues are what prompted a group of artists to publish an open letter alleging that CB1 Gallery had “consistently failed” to pay artists according to the terms of its contracts, wrote checks that bounced and repeatedly sold work without informing them.
“This abuse appears to us to be systematic and so we feel it is time to speak out,” reads the letter, published Tuesday at artistsversuscb1gallery.com.
It was signed by nine artists who have shown their work at the gallery over the years, including Brett Reichman, Michael Mancari, Emily Davis Adams, Lily Simonson and Merion Estes — all of whom claim to have “outstanding receivables.” Additional signatories included painters Tom Knechtel and Jamie Skolnick, who have shown at CB1 and who added their names to the notice in solidarity.
Beswick said in a written statement that CB1 is “working hard to resolve any issues with the artists whose work we have shown.”
But the open letter is not the first inkling of trouble at CB1. In December, Mancari and Reichman filed separate lawsuits against the gallery and its founders over nonpayment.
Reichman, who is based in the Bay Area, filed his claim in San Francisco County Superior Court, seeking more than $11,100 in damages, as well as attorneys fees. The gallery recently defaulted in the case, and the artist is currently awaiting a final hearing.
Mancari, who filed his suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court, had sought $10,000 in damages in connection with a painting titled “Blue Monday,” for which he says he was paid with a check that bounced. After that, he alleges, he was never paid for the work, nor was it returned. The artist ultimately settled his case with the gallery in the spring for $6,000.
But Mancari alleges that CB1 hasn’t made any payments on the settlement either.
“He asked to pay it in three installments,” the artist said. “Since then, I have received no installments or payments.”
Given our cash flow and slow sales, in late March we made the difficult decision to close the gallery. CB1 will close at the end of our current exhibition.
Though Beswick says CB1’s problems are due to financial troubles stemming from the gallery’s move to a bigger space in 2015, Adams, who claims she is owed almost $6,000, alleges that the problems have been brewing for some time.
“This has happened since the beginning of showing with him,” she said via telephone from the Bay Area, where she resides. “I was in a group show in 2013 and then he took me on as a represented artist.
“My first solo show in the new space was in the project room and I had one large painting. He sold that painting and I had to kick and scream for a very long time to see little chunks of money here and there.”
Adams said she experienced a similar problem following another solo show at the gallery in January 2017 — an exhibition that received positive critical notice from Times art critic Christopher Knight, who described it as “lovely.”
That exhibition featured 24 paintings, 10 of which she says sold. She claims that she is still owed for three of them. The timing, she says, couldn’t have been worse: “I had just had a baby and he promised me that I’d get this big chunk that he owed me, but it never came.”
To support her claim, Adams forwarded statements on sales and an email exchange in which she demands that Beswick pay her the funds owed. He responds: “I am sorry I have been unresponsive. I have been waiting for some money to come in for 6 weeks but the clients have not paid.”
Beswick, who said he was speaking on behalf of the gallery and CB1 co-founder Jason Chang (who was unavailable to comment), declined to address the individual artists’ claims. But in his emailed statement Beswick said, “We truly love the art we have exhibited and respect the artists.”
Before he opened CB1, Beswick was a marketing executive who came to art as a collector in the 1980s — amassing works by key Los Angeles artists such as Lari Pittman, Catherine Opie and Paul McCarthy. But that all came to a halt in 1997 when he was convicted of embezzling and filing false tax returns. He lost his collection and ended up serving more than 13 months in county jail and state prison.
“I really screwed up,” Beswick told The Times in 2015. “And I paid for my mistake.”
The gallery represented a comeback of sorts. CB1’s shows were regularly reviewed by critics in The Times and art publications.
Art, Beswick said upon the unveiling of his expanded space, is “not a commodity. I’m not selling food. I can’t get involved if I don’t fall in love with I’m showing.”
But in the open letter, the artists describe a gallery operation that didn’t quite live up to its high-minded ideals.
“We believed, as much of the L.A. arts community apparently did, that Mr. Beswick’s reform was an honest one,” stated the letter. “We were grateful for the opportunity his gallery provided as a space for exhibiting work and building a web of engaged, active members of the larger Los Angeles art community. Unfortunately, our experience has proven otherwise.”
Reichman said that filing a lawsuit was something he “agonized” over.
“But as a labor-intensive painter who can spend upwards of three years on a single work, I simply could not allow the gallery to sell multiple works and not compensate me for them,” he said to The Times via email.
Above all, the suit has been a distraction from the studio, he said.
“It’s a demoralizing outcome,” he said. “Mr. Beswick’s claims to care about artists run counter to his actions as I’ve experienced them.”