Doug Chrismas Photo by Joey Krebs

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by Gordy Grundy


[Editor's Note: The following conversation has been edited to preserve anonymity.]


Female Bot Voice: This call is now being recorded.

Gordy Grundy: Let's discuss your relationship with gallerist Doug Chrismas. You were an artist in his stable?

Witness No. 4: Yes, that is correct. 

Gordy Grundy: What happened with that? What was the story there? 

Witness No. 4: He was sent to my studio on a recommendation.

Gordy Grundy: Okay. He stopped by the studio and what happened?

Witness No. 4: He didn't say much. He looked and he contemplated. Then he said that he would like to come back in a week. He then made a proposal to represent me.

GG: That's a life changer. 

No.4: Somewhat yes. Some things took place in regards to my career and my exhibiting. Sales, collectors, things like that. And it was certainly, what would I say, initiated by Ace and it continued.

GG: That's a nice start.

No.4:  The rest of my exhibitions except for group shows and some various spots but all my larger multi-room exhibitions were at the various Ace Galleries. I know you know those galleries. New York, Mexico City, Beverly Hills, Mid-Wilshire and that's it. Oh no, and the first one was on Melrose next to Gemini. 

GG: Why did the relationship end?

No.4: Why did it end? It just somewhat organically or inorganically dissolved into his, uh, his legal mess.

GG: Riiight. 2015?

No.4: Yes. I started receiving documents from the bankruptcy court. I started receiving all this stuff. Doug was going into this, not receivership, but a bankruptcy thing. The next number of years was just making sure that I was able to get what was mine, which was some money and a lot of art work. 

GG: Did you get it all back?

No.4: Yes, later, I did.

GG: Good. Well, that was time consuming! 

No.4: Yes. It was an energy drain... I won't include this interview, but I hope this is the last one I ever do.

GG and No.4: (Laughter)

No.4: Seriously. It's just something that with life you got to move forward from where you're stuck.

GG: Absolutely. 

No.4:  I do feel I have a different sense of what I feel my exhibitions should be, what they should look like. What kind of substance they should inhabit? Which is a different deal or just a different format, than a lot of galleries. That is definitely due to Doug's exhibition history way before I got there, and that continued while I was there, especially in the 20 years sweet spot when the shows were epic.


"Who does this guy think he is" kind of stuff. Coming to New York and being so audacious to open a gallery of this size!


He predated the concept of supersized gallery shows, kind of set the tone somewhat in New York. Where they didn't have major spaces.

Larry (Gagosian) had had good shows that were broad and well-thought out, well-curated, that isolated on groups of paintings by an artist, and he kind of snuck in a few somewhat historical shows. They also weren't supersized galleries. Then Doug opened his New York space and the scale was a whole new deal. 

GG: Interesting.

No.4: Yes. I think New York and the art writers were somewhat positive, especially when he was showing a New York artist like Sol LeWitt or Michael Heizer. But, they were also, I think, "Who does this guy think he is" kind of stuff. Coming to New York and being so audacious to open a gallery of this size!

GG: Right. Exactly.

No.4: Yes. But then, through a number of exhibitions, Doug won them over. He certainly won them over when Tim Hawkinson had a whole gallery show. Mary Corse also had an entire gallery show. A lotta of big paintings. A little later after that, Tara Donovan had her groundbreaking show. And when Rauschenberg had a retrospective at the Guggenheim, which was obviously the uptown Guggenheim. Back then, they also had a Guggenheim in SoHo.

Then, Doug showed a single Robert Rauschenberg artwork that went through the entire gallery. A single painting that was— You could look it up. It's a famous Rauschenberg piece that's a quarter of a mile long. That's the name of it, "The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece." It is literally a quarter-of-a-mile long painting. Obviously, in multiple panels.

Detail: The 1/4 Mile or 2 Furlong Piece, 1981-1998
Photo courtesy of Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Art: © 2021 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation

GG: Right. But that's staggering!

No.4: So, Doug was doing shows like this. Once again, I think I mentioned this last time we spoke. A Sol LeWitt show was jaw-dropping in its scale. It was gray cinder block and gray cement mortar that was the exact tone as the cinder block, so the grout line and the cinder block kind of disappeared into a single tonality, in these geometric sculptures, that inhabited every room and the grand hallway. It was flawless.

GG: Wow.

No.4: Yes. It was wow. No doubt. Doug is much lauded for the fact he kind of just steps out of the installation in so many ways. It shows that he has an opinion but he wasn't telling you what to do. He was allowing you to fulfill your vision. 

GG: Quite a bit.

No.4: He had an opinion here and there, but towards the end was just like "Go for it." There's the key almost. I think that was artists like Dennis Oppenheim, and other artists that he just kind of trusted their vision and thought that they probably would come up with a better layout than he would. 

GG: So, Doug's not making decisions like, "Let's make bigger paintings." He just stayed out of that?

No.4: Yes. But when your dealer builds galleries at scale, he doesn't have to tell you to make bigger paintings. You either make them or you don't. But yes, good point. One thing about Doug's whole deal was you scaled up. Everybody scaled up. And it worked for some, more than others, let's put it that way. Tim (Hawkinson) scaled up monumentally.

GG: I remember when Tim's studio was next to John Miller's, downtown... So, Doug just kind of gave people a freedom, which they gladly took.

No.4: Yes. I think some people needed a little more hand-holding. That was different. Doug was just there. Up early, lights on in that office on Mid-Wilshire till 9-10 o'clock at night. He was on it. Right? Devoted.

GG: Clearly, very hard working. Is that what hurt him the most? Too much ambition?

No.4: Yes. I would say— I don't know if there's— Overambitious, yes. I don't mean in the amount of money or resources he had. I just think in his-- I'll leave that one out. Not for me to speculate.
He obviously continued to get into financial quagmires because of his, I don't know, if it was just from being overly ambitious, continually being over-extended. He might have been playing a monetary game that was out of his league. 

GG: Yes. Big boots, small feet. 

No.4: Yes. I think it's not that simple. I also think that, to tell you the truth, his arrogance got him into a lot of his problems.

GG: He is quite arrogant.


...He had a bad attitude. He was like a Canadian punker before there was punk...


No.4: Yes. It's a combination. It's a combination that obviously has not added up to great success because, rightfully, not from a moral standpoint, but just from the way that started and played out for Doug, he should be extremely successful. Especially in an art world that is definitely buoyant as can be, even at this moment in wacky political history, with a pandemic and everything. The art world is still-- There's major players and there's lots of resources. His undoing is his doing.

GG: He had the vision of things, clearly ahead of the time. So why?

No.4: Arrogance. Do you know the 1974 documentary on the collector Robert Scull sale at Sotheby's? You should find it and watch it. I think it's available. Anyway, if you watch closely, you'll see Doug with a full head of long blonde hair get out of a cab with Robert Rauschenberg going to the auction. It's a famous auction because it's the first time somebody in New York had put together a voracious major art collection, over, I don't know, a six or eight-year period, nine years. A top art collection. And bought in depth and bought in lots of work. His wife bought it with him, Ethel Scull, and it included a whole wall series of portraits by Warhol. They had everybody. Lichtenstein. Warhol. Rauschenberg. Johns. Da-da-da. Scull decided to sell it off. Nobody had really done that.

It was kind of a scandal. This movie is about the climate in the art world. Doug was already showing Rauschenberg. I think my point is if you watch this, you can see why Doug being out here in LA, with the gallery and access to Leo Castelli's artists and rolling with Bob Rauschenberg and showing Lichtenstein and Warhol, he had an attitude. He had a bad attitude. He was like a Canadian punker before there was punk.

Andy Warhol - Ethel Scull 36 Times, 1963. Metropolitan Museum of Art and Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

GG: Just a bad attitude. Is that a kind of jealousy? 

No.4: I think that's good question and you need to do more of what you're doing and come to your own conclusion. I think there might have been—Nice at times, charming, but he could be such an unpleasant person to people, in negotiations or in just bullying. 

GG: Interesting.

No.4: Yes. I don't know if that was just his nature. Maybe he was pissed off because of his upbringing? Probably a lot of issues. 

GG: What was the upbringing?

No.4: I have no idea. He was out somewhere. I don't know. He doesn't talk much. Never heard much about his father at all. His mother, he referenced once in a while and one of his brothers. 

GG:  No one really knows much about his upbringing. Again, more looking to do. Doug is a cypher. I mean, again, 90 percent of what we think we know about him could be rumor. 

No.4: Yes. 

GG: And I've really never heard of any lasting friendships or—

No.4: But then I would say this. He does and it dissolves, but he definitely had lasting relationships. In the end, they kind of came unglued. No odd relationships. He had important ones. They lasted, and then a lot of them didn't.

GG: Did he do much in terms of getting you new shows in other cities or other galleries? Or was that really not happening?

No.4: He didn't do that much because in my case and some of the other artists. Doug had a gallery in New York, he had a gallery on Mid-Wilshire, one in Beverly Hills and he had a gallery in Mexico City... Doug's galleries kept me booked. I just did shows at his galleries. I didn't care about having shows at other galleries. I probably should have, but I didn't. 

GG: You didn't need to.

No.4: I didn't need to. Exactly. But he didn't work well with other galleries. Because he just can't work with other galleries. He worked with Irving Blum a little. Ace artists did a group show at Blum Helman in New York. There were a few things and a few institutions Doug would work with. I just think there were not many galleries that wanted to work with him.

GG: Right. Difficult.

No.4: Difficult. His reputation. The whole thing. He had a bad reputation in the mid-80s. So, it's not news to anybody. 

GG: Right. I mean, his bad reputation compared to the rise of Gagosian. Eclipsing Doug.

No.4: Yes. Larry was on the ascent, right, when Doug got jammed up in the mid-80s or '83 or '84, whenever that was, and got in trouble legally and financially and had to reinvent Ace Gallery, and lost his connection with Castelli.

GG: How did he lose that?

No.4: By improper business practices. Being over-extended. Using Castelli artists, whose work he had on consignment, as collateral. And that you can look up because that's what he was arrested for.

GG: Yeah. Leo's not going to like that for very long. Although, they had a long relationship I believe.


...Then Doug fucked it up...


No.4: They did. That's my point. Until then. 

GG: Until then.

No.4: Doug had a relationship all through the 70s. I mentioned this before. If you could find, I don't know if it is online... Doug had every back cover of Art in America. Ace Gallery. Flow Ace. All through the 70s. Full page, back covers of artists. And a lot of Castelli artists. And others, smart, really good artists.

GG: That would be a valuable relationship. With Leo Castelli. 

No.4: Do you think? Or what? Yes...

(Editor's Note: Castelli appears in another exhibit in this report. We highly recommend "Doug Chrismas Fooled Me Once and Fired Me Twice" by Dimitri Vorvolakos.)

GG: What happened there? Were they doing much work together?

No.4: This is before Ed— Ed (Ruscha) was certainly recognized and was West Coast Pop. He was pretty much the front and center of West Coast Pop art. He had, I think, a little bit of an up and down slow time or— Pop art kind of cycled into a lull because of Minimalism. Pop art got overtaken by Minimalist art and Reductive art and Land art and all kinds of different conceptual leanings. Ed was here and struck up a relationship with Doug. Then Doug fucked it up. Maybe Ed felt like he got cheated, or didn't get paid, or whatever?

Robert Therrien also was showing with Ace. Doug helped start his career. Then Doug got jammed up in that 80's deal. Therrien sued him. He won the lawsuit. Doug had to make financial restitution, which he did. Then where did Robert go? To Leo Castelli. Then when Leo was done, by that time Larry (Gagosian) had taken Doug's place with Leo. And was showing to some extent what he could get his hands on, some of Leo's artists including Richard Serra and some other ones. And then Leo just kind of toned his whole deal down, as he got older and Larry took over. Doug could have been riding up there on the crest, but he didn't know how to play the game. 

GG: He didn't like to work on a team. A solo act. 

No.4: Yeah.

GG: Yes. He seemed to have so many different relationships with every artist. Some he took advantage of and others he didn't. 

No.4: Yes, I'm not sure. He's bit of a carnivore, I think, when he smelled raw flesh. He went for the kill. A little, I don't know. You're right. It's different. I'm not going to get into gender politics but he definitely had his opinions about female artists.

GG: He didn't have many of them.

No.4: That's what you think. He had a few. They're successful to this day. Tough cookies too. 

GG: I guess they had to be.

No.4: They had to be. Absolutely. No doubt.

GG: He remains a cypher. We'll never truly understand human nature. Too complex. 

No.4: Yes, exactly. I was going to say, some of it is just what it is. You can go back and analyze events that took place in his childhood or family issues or whatever. But in the end, he made bad decisions, repeatedly. That's the key to me. I mean, I made bad decisions in my 20s and then I didn't. Come on. 


...Well, what's really interesting is, where is the money coming from?


GG: You learned. But he never seemed to really learn from his many adventures.

No.4: I know. I also think that it gets back to arrogance. He just doesn't think that he has to. 

GG: Well, isn't that the definition of a sociopath? 

No.4: Yes. Well, let's say he falls under that umbrella. Yes. I'm sure Doug right now doesn't have one bit of a question about— I don't think it ever comes up that he did anything wrong, that he's responsible for the situation he's in. It's somebody else's fault absolutely. That's just been the way it's been the whole time. 

GG: Naturally, I imagine he's focused on his defense. He's focused on this new gallery-museum he's going to be opening, which will be most spectacular thing we've ever seen. 

No.4: Is he still flinging that out to you?

GG: To everybody, I think, from what I am learning.

No.4: Yes, because that's just what he does. I'll tell you what Doug, you better hurry up. Because you aren't getting any younger. Who knows? Well, what's really interesting is, where is the money coming from? How about where is the money coming from for these legal defenses that never end? 

Can you imagine? What the billing rate is? The amount of time when you're in a federal—you're defending yourself against the US government! Where is that money? Where are those checks? What account are those checks being written from?

GG: So then, we can keep thinking positively.

No.4: That's why we're all counting on you. 

GG: Interesting.

No.4: You need to answer that question. 

GG: I would like to answer that question. I can't imagine anyone assisting him at this point. 

No.4: No. I can't either. Unless there's some hidden benefactor somewhere.

GG: I mean again, most people have never been to his home, don't even know where he's ever lived.

No.4: No. He's had a few apartments that I dropped him off at in front of, but I don't know. No. I have no idea. 

GG: It's a big mystery. Very few people even know what's going on.

No.4: Yes. Very few. Probably two or three. 

GG: Yes. Surely. Well, I guess we'll just have to keep watching and waiting. The saga isn't over yet. 

No.4: No, that's for sure. Tell me, I'll ask you a few questions. Have you talked to him lately?

GG: No. Not for maybe a good month and a half. 

No.4: When you talk to him, do you get anything insightful from him?

GG: No... Things keep twisting around. He has remained upset with the fact that I refuse to tell him who gave me his phone number. That became an issue, a sticking point.

No.4: Yes. If it wasn't that, it would have been something else. 



GORDY GRUNDY is the editor-in-chief of Art Report Today .com, the most comprehensive arts and culture news platform in the world.


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Photo of Doug Chrismas by Joey Krebbs
Photo Illustrations courtesy of Art Report Today .com


Gordy Grundy

Gordy Grundy

Gordy Grundy