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: Okay. This call is now being recorded. So, sorry about all of this. The State of California wants two-person confirmation on any recorded calls. So, I just want to say that at the end of this, you may want to be anonymous or keep your name on it, or not. Feel free to speak candidly. Right now, let's ask some of the important questions like when and how did you first meet Doug?

Witness No.7: Okay, great.

Gordy Grundy: Doug Chrismas is a fascinating—and polarizing character.

Witness No.7: Yes. No, he's an amazing character.

GG: In what way?

No.7: Well, he has a great eye. He brought artists, gave artists the opportunity to show in his space that went on to become blue chip artists. He has a great eye. The shows that he created, curated, brought into his gallery spaces over decades, came from his amazing eye. He has one of the best eyes for art, that I know of. 

Photo of Doug Chrismas by Joey Krebs; Illustration by Art Report Today

GG: I agree.

No.7: I mean, he could be like, gallerist [REDACTED].

GG: But what do you mean, like [REDACTED]?

No.7: But Doug was much more complicated.

GG: Just too complicated to succeed?

No.7: Uhhh... No... The miracle is that he got away with it, for so long.

GG and No.7: [Laughter]

No.7: It took this long for people to catch up with him. And for the wheels of justice, to find him. 


...the miracle is that he got away with it, for so long...


GG: He is elusive. The cancel culture never found him... I've heard that he is very difficult to work with. A tyrannical boss. What do you know?

No.7: Oh, correct. That's correct. Just when I get to know one of his assistants or one of his folks at the front desk, they'd be gone and there'd be somebody else in their place. Yes. At the beginning, I think people really, really wanted to work for him because of his reputation as a dealer, which is just flawless, because he really got one great artist after another.

GG: How does he get them?

No.7: I think part of it is his charm, because he's charming. Also, knowledgeable and had a real depth and understanding of contemporary art. I mean, he surely would be able to tell you all the people that he first showed, that he continued to show. Many had struggled to get away from him because they weren't being paid. I mean that's what I heard from the artists directly, not from Doug of course, but from the artists directly.

GG: Right. Good artists are hard to sign. 

No.7: Is that what happened? I don't believe that. I think people would still show with him today. 

GG: Well, in the past, he's been in quite a few high-profile lawsuits. Rauschenberg is one. At the end of these cases, many of those same people, that took him to court, continued to work with him. 

No.7: I don't know. I don't know if that will happen. Is it working now?

GG: I'm afraid it might not be.

No.7: Pardon me?

GG: In a bankruptcy, the oversight is intense. Just one tiny slip-up can create big legal problems.

No.7: Don't know. We'll have to wait and see. It seems to me that he's a cat with nine lives and he just keeps coming back and back and back. seems to me that he's a cat with nine lives...


And he did projects outside of the gallery that were pretty nice. One of them was the market they had, Charmer's Market. It was just a wonderful place. Great food. Yes. I don't know what else. Maybe other people can tell you more about it because I don't know that much about his outside activities.

GG: What were some of your dealings with him? Did you bring clients to him? 

No.7: Yes, I did. I did. I brought clients to him. They loved him. [Pause.] But there was one collector couple who was not happy with one of the pieces that they had bought. Doug generously offered to take the piece back and replace it with something else and send them a wonderful deal.

I cautioned my client not to do that, because I thought the piece was really amazing.

But, my client didn't listen to me and took Doug's offer. Unfortunately, it took probably about two years for the collector to get their piece.

I do know that handlers and shippers, for example, the people that picked up the art work and delivered it to Doug, at the end, and this is for quite some time, they would absolutely not deliver anything there, unless they were paid in advance, because they, too, were— No, really. They had to be paid before they would drop something off or pick it up. 

GG: Right. 

No.7: Okay, that's really an example for liar, isn't it?

GG: He's been through those situations, many times before, and, at some point, I guess, you just go to hell with it. It becomes a part of the operation. [Pause.] He has a reputation for being extremely hands-on.

No.7: I'm sure he is.

GG: I'm sure you can remember the time when Los Angeles nightlife revolved around an ACE opening. 

No.7: That's right. It did. These openings were just brilliant. I remember being at one where there were all these tall people. It took me a while, I don't know how long, probably after a couple of glasses of wine, I suddenly realized that there were these really, really tall people at this opening. Of course, there were rumors that he had called Central Casting or whomever he contacted to get these people, tall people, at his opening. It was really interesting. They were all great people.

GG: Legendary. Tall, good-looking people?

No.7: It was never that they were good-looking or not. It was their height that just dazzled me.

GG: Interesting. He had gone to Central Casting for that?

No.7: Well, wherever he goes to get people. I'm sure he did that more than once. I don't know if he ever did that with short people, but he'd certainly stick with tall. They were all fabulous people at his openings. When he did this one for Dennis Hopper, I mean, Dennis's friends all came and it was pretty amazing. 

GG: Right. Are you thinking back to the Venice period or was this later at the Miracle Mile Desmond's period?

No.7: Desmond.

GG: Desmond. That space was gorgeous. Massive.

No.7: Absolutely gorgeous. Stunning.

GG: Yes. Why do you think he seasons the audience with tall people?

No.7: Just for our hoots, I'm sure. [Laughter.] What else? ACE did those beautiful posters. For every show, do you remember them?

GG: Right. 

No.7: Those posters were just gorgeous. 

GG: Those were the ones that were being auctioned off recently.

No.7: Are they? Oh, really? I didn't know that. Where?

GG: It was an online show, I believe. It's the last part of the liquidation of assets... Did many galleries create posters back then?

No.7: Not like ACE. No one did it like Doug. No one.

GG: Less about marketing and more about the art?

No.7: That's right.

GG: Did you collect them?

No.7: I did for my family. I did it for myself. I certainly did for family and friends that loved them. Absolutely.

GG: Right... The art world loves to gossip and it's safest to assume 95 percent of what you hear is false. Just asking, several times, I've heard some kind of crazy stories about sexual harassment and such matters.

No.7: Oh, I haven't heard any of that and I can't even imagine it.

GG: I think you are right. Nothing like that leapt out at my investigator.

No.7: Right. I never heard anything about that ever.

GG: I've heard it enough, but again found no proof to it. You know how the art world works.

No.7: I would be surprised. I mean, that surprises me since I didn't— I never heard a word. 

GG: Right. Again, it's just in the art world, everybody loves to gossip. Like an unguided missile, gossip takes on its own trajectory.


...there was one woman he was with for years and years and years but the rumor was—
it was his sister...


No.7:  Again, I know nothing about that. Furthermore, I can't imagine it. 

GG: What else can you tell us?

No.7: When we worked together, he never asked any personal questions about my life. We never really went into any kind of personal conversations ever. It was just all about the work. 

GG: Of course. Did he ever reveal anything about himself or his life to you?

No.7: Absolutely not. We had to guess for years and years. We were guessing about who's in his life. Who is he with? There was one woman he was with for years and years and years but the rumor was— it was his sister. Really. No kidding. I'm not kidding. Everyone was just guessing. 

GG: Right. [Pause.] Before he had to close down, some of his artists weren't so great.

No.7: God, look at Mary Corse. Look what happened. He handled her with kid gloves I believe. He knew. He's a great manipulator. He knows how to keep art, it seems to me. He knows how to keep artists up long past when they should have left him. But they didn't. They were very loyal to him. 

GG: Why do you think that was?

No.7: You have to ask the artists that. It's a good question. Why did they stay with him? The artists seemed to know one another and they seemed to talk with each other, about how they were getting screwed over by him, but they remained with him. You'll have to ask them why.

GG: I know a number of artists finally left because Doug just wasn't working with any outside galleries. He wasn't able to expand the artist's universe. And Doug didn't want to work with anyone outside of his own universe. The Artist's Life is about change and growth and expansion.

No.7: Well, I don't know what was going on in his personal life at that time. It really interests me because he had a great head start on everybody. He was ahead of all of them. 

GG: Yes. Everyone has kind of a little bit different variation of their own story. I'm curious why Mary Corse had been with him so long.

No.7: Yes. Have you talked to Mary?

GG: No, I haven't. I believe she's still working with him. Security has been tight on this project and I could not risk that chance.

No.7: Isn't she with Pace or someone like that now? I mean look what happened to her market?

GG: What had happened to her market?

No.7: Oh, it just exploded. 

GG: Yes, she is with Pace. 

No.7: Yes, I think so. Helen Pashgian is another one that I think, I don't know--

GG: She's a pioneer. I like her work.

No.7: I don't know what happened to Helen. I don't know if she was with Doug or not. I'm trying to think of how I discovered her.

GG: She was with Doug for a while and I think they didn't end on a great note, but there's still a few pieces flying back and forth.

No.7: Okay. That doesn't surprise me.

GG: Yes. I've never met her but she sounds like an incredible woman.

No.7: Oh, she's a little crabby. 

GG: (laughing) I had heard she could be crabby, but she gets away with it.

No.7: Yes. I don't know if she gets away with it or not. But that's the other thing, Doug had an explosive temper. He would just explode over something small. Have you ever heard about his temper? Well, it was not anything. 

GG: Did you ever see that?

No.7: It's not anything you want to see. Yes, I did.

GG: Was it like an instant switch?

No.7: Yes, a switch that would flip. Right.

GG: I was told how he could have an exploding temper tantrum at an employee and then suddenly turn to a collector, and he was completely someone else.

No.7:  He didn't do it in front of any collectors. It was pointed at someone else. One of his employees or whatever. 

GG: Right. We've got a very funny story in this Special Report series, about an employee, "Doug Chrismas Fooled Me Once and Fired Me Twice"... But like you were saying, I mean there's just that incredible charm. He knows how to use it.

No.7: And he was smart. He wasn't just charming. Factored up with incredible knowledge of the art market and the artist that he was proposing. He could just— Besides being charming, he had the intellect to back that up. I wonder if he has a relationship with Larry Gagosian. Do you know? Has anybody talked about that?

GG: I don't think so. I believe they've always been competitors. 

No.7: Well, of course they are. But I didn't know if—

GG: To my knowledge, I have not heard a peep of anything like that. And Larry is a smart guy. 


"...Larry's not in the art business. He's in the real estate business..."


No.7: Yes. He's always been on his own. Doug really never bought in to see investors in a way that Gagosian has. I mean, Gagosian has to have a whole cadre of investors that he works with. He has to. How else do you open up 20 galleries? Or however many he has? 

GG: Right. Well, people often say that "Larry's not in the art business. He's in the real estate business."

No.7: Yes, it's true. I would agree with that.

GG: If we look at the art world as it is today, with its worldwide gallery reach and its investment in the gallery as an experiential destination, I almost think that Doug designed the blueprints for that, a long time ago in the 70s. New York. Berlin. Beijing. Mexico. Would you agree or disagree with that?

No.7: Oh, I would agree. I would agree.

GG: I mean he never had the financial backing that Gagosian or Hauser & Wirth have.

No.7: Yes. Right. Well, Hauser & Wirth wasn't around at that time. Larry wasn't around at that time. Doug was really the only game in town. The kind of shows that he did, no one else did those kinds of exhibitions. 

GG: Right. No one else had that kind of big, beautiful space. 

No.7: That's right. 

GG: I guess he was really the first guy who took an art gallery from the storefront to the museum—Back then, there were no art galleries, as we know them today. Back then, they were shoppes. Art was an item in a furniture store. Doug Chrismas took art sales and placed the transaction into an art gallery and then a museum. He created the gallery as museum.

No.7: That's right. 

GG: A good number of people seem to think that he will be doing time for this embezzlement charge. 

No.7: I don't know. I'm telling you, I don't know. I wouldn't put my betting on it. I really wouldn't. 



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