Doug Chrismas Photo by Joey Krebs

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by Gordy Grundy

A respected colleague, a writer, flatly stated, “Rehabilitate his reputation? Doug Chrismas has no reputation. His race has run and the art world has moved on.”

Rehab his rep? I never said that! How does one polish rust? Immediately, I imagined myself typing every writer's nightmare, the puff piece, “He loves schnitzel and strudel. Adolph is always quick with a smile, a limerick or a dirty ditty.” Hard to do, when overwhelming evidence and general opinion suggest otherwise.

The art world is full of hot potatoes, but I have always been fascinated with Douglas Chrismas, the impresario of the Ace art world empire. No one in the art world is as enigmatic, inscrutable or mysterious. As you will read in this Special Report, Witness No. 3 confirms, "There was this whole kind of cult and mythology and storytelling around Doug Chrismas."

Little is known about the man, even to his intimates.



Our Special Report is designed to flesh out the character, with a series of interviews and first-person accounts. Each exhibit presents a viewpoint, which offers new insights and hard stories. Puzzle pieces find a mate and a portrait begins to emerge. Each is fascinating.

The non-fiction short story "Doug Chrismas Fooled Me Once and Fired Me Twice" is laugh-out-loud hilarious, like art world slapstick. Click Here.

In an interview, Ron Cooper tells the fascinating story of art life and friendships in Los Angeles in the late Sixties. Click Here.

In an interview, Witness No. 3 notes, "His reputation was notorious. Now if you and I were talking about the world of rap music, we would be covering him like the most important OG in the game." Click Here.

"Karma Kabuki" by artist James Hayward speaks of hidden storage rooms, evidence of deceit and the surprise recovery of a prized painting. Click Here.

In an interview, Witness: No. 4 states, "(Doug Chrismas) had a bad attitude. He was like a Canadian punker before there was punk." Click Here.

"The miracle is that he got away with it, for so long," says Interview Witness No. 7, "He never had the financial backing that Gagosian or Hauser & Wirth have." Click Here.

Each piece has much to offer, loaded with detail, intrigue, laughs and a few jaw-droppers.

Click Here to see the menu for Special Report: The Talented Mr. Chrismas.





The most definitive profile about Douglas Chrismas appeared as the cover story of the LA Weekly on October 9, 2003. Kristine McKenna's New Yorker-length article "The Ace is Wild" is exceptionally well-written and researched; a genuine page-turner. At the end, I whispered, "Patricia Highsmith." McKenna was reporting on a very queasy character, a real-life, anti-hero from the dark novelist's oeuvre. "Chrismas is the Talented Mr. Ripley!" We recommend a reading of the fascinating LA Weekly article that spans the groovy late Sixties, the glam of the Eighties and the gold rush of the Nineties. Chrismas has lived an adventurous life.

On Jun 28, 2016, award-winning investigative journalist Charles Rappleye wrote the article "No Chrismas at Ace" for Artillery magazine, " of the titans of the local scene has been locked out of his expansive gallery and is being called to account for years of murky management... (Doug) has for years stayed a step ahead of creditors and disgruntled artists, his trail marked by scores of lawsuits, a criminal pleading and at least five filings for bankruptcy." Rappleye provides the fiscal finaglings in great detail, Click Here.

The wheels of justice move slowly. A bankruptcy gone bad. The steering wheel was taken from his hands. Doug had pissed off the court-appointed manager, one who wields great authority. Arts journalist Jori Finkel, who relentlessly covers Doug Chrismas, details the messy break-up in The Art Newspaper.

After five and a half years, waiting a denouement, charges of embezzlement were eventually filed.

Douglas Christmas was arrested for embezzlement on July 27, 2021. His name was everywhere; the fine arts media had something exciting to write about. He was quickly released on a $50,000 bond. Artillery magazine writes, "He was spotted by a writer for Artillery at the opening session of the Felix Art Fair held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel two days after his arrest." He was later seen at the LA Art Fair with a beautiful young woman, as chronicled by the photographer Joey Krebs.

Photo by Joey Krebs

His September 21, 2021 arraignment, delayed—naturally, garnered zero media interest.

Sadly, crimes of accounting are dull affairs with no lipstick, little gun play or screeching tires on wet asphalt.



Art Report Today features a section “Art Noir,” devoted to mayhem, murder, money laundering, fraud and forgery. Exciting stuff. The art world is a hot bed of malfeasance; we can’t keep up with all the macabre tales and allegations. Sadly, to my knowledge, Chrismas has never pointed a gun at anyone. (Though, legend has it that Richard Serra angrily pulled one on him. Or was that Michael Heizer? Or both?) Any Chrismas crime is dressed in a gently-starched white collar.

"The Special Report: The Talented Mr. Chrismas" is a necessary cautionary tale. One of our interviewees asked, "How did he get away with it, for so long?" Well, how did he? Fast-flowing money is the fuel of the fine art market economy. An awful lot of salaciousness get swept away in the current. Malfeasance is met with a casual shrug and a shady grin. That's Art Noir.

We gave all of our interviewees the option of anonymity. These days, we are mob-ruled and that is frightening. Why do we focus a report on Doug Chrismas? He still wields power, enough power to intimidate, terrorize or, at the least, annoy.

This "Talented Mr. Chrismas" presents a fall from grace. He was once a king. A jail cell may dominate his future. He excitedly speaks of new projects and museums. Is there the possibility of an American comeback for this Canadian?



As you will see, the skilled toreador Douglas Chrismas is no angel, just a lil' bit of a devil, with dimples. Kristine McKenna notes, "He dimples sweetly when he smiles, and it’s easy to imagine what he must’ve looked like as a child."

As an impresario, he has created amazing and wonderful things. His early career is the blueprint for the expansive modern mega-gallery art universe in which we swim today. And he has knowingly defrauded good folks and art-loving souls.



I tried to get an interview with Doug Chrismas. I knew it was an impossibility, as he has never given a proper interview. Journalist Kristine McKenna tried and it was a well-documented disaster. I don't think Doug likes the inherent lack of control of an interview.

Doug's story is a better novella than a novel. Netflix offers "Inventing Anna" the art world scammer femme fatale; is Chrismas streamable? Is his story told as a graphic crime novel? Or is it a human comedy, a grand "Nashville" or "A Wedding"-like film directed by Robert Altman or a Hal Ashby? I think I favor the genteel chaos of a Marx Brothers-like energy, with Doug operating in the middle of an over-stuffed cruise ship stateroom.



Like everyone awaiting a federal trial, the future for Doug Chrismas will be a series of delays. A defense has to be mounted and time extended. His trial and potential sentencing will make fine art news and then quietly vanish. Like Mary Boone.

We await the denouement.



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








An old friend, who was a mover and shaker in his time, had dealings with Chrismas. His widow recently whispered to me, "There were times when the IRS, the FBI or even a collector wanted to know the whereabouts of certain art works. Like when the authorities were looking for a painting that Doug said that he did not have. My husband and a colleague found many of the items in question in Doug's storage.

"Chrismas was famous for selling art more than once. He might tell the new buyer the piece was on tour, around the world in museums. Then he could sell it again to someone else. A happy collector might hang a masterpiece in his home—until Doug might need to borrow it for a 'museum show'. All the balls were being juggled in the air.

"That said, we have always felt Doug had a great eye. My husband did advise artists to sign with him. He knew how to sell work. He may not have treated his artists honestly or been financially responsible, but he did advance their careers. There was always one caveat to my husband's advice, "Visit the gallery daily and check your inventory!"

Brazen is a word I have always appreciated. Selling the same art work to three or four collectors is brazen. Armed robbery is not as edgy; the goal of a bank robbery is to stay unidentifiable and therefore un-jailed. A forger works in secrecy for a reason. Selling the same, much-desired painting to six or eight art lovers is a game of foolish exposure; bills of sale, payment exchanges and gleeful cocktail party chatter tell a well-documented tale. You will be easily caught.

Is the perp a fool? Or a mastermind of manipulation, with the sheer cunning to evade the heavy hand of reason and the law? Ego and arrogance may fuel the risky, high-speed and short-lived drive. It is a crime of many questions. Like, why? You will get caught— Or is that the game, of silver-tongued words, confidence and escape?

It is not a crime of convenience. Keeping track of who all, owns what painting, and the detailed story that goes with each, would be daunting, and worth every stolen dime.



I called My Guy. He called back the next day with the Chrismas phone number. Several actually, as he could no longer read his own handwriting. The second one worked and I introduced myself to the mastermind of Ace Gallery.

I have nodded and hello’d with Chrismas many times over the years but have never talked long enough to study the voice. His is a grand tool. Never soft-spoken, his tenor is earnest and confidential, quietly advisory and trustworthy. There are many who have taken the man to court and later embraced him with new business; I evidence the tenor. Our interview with Witness: No. 7 says, "I think part of it is his charm, because he's charming."

His dulcet tone is circumstantial; many speak of the high register of his wrath. Like a facile actor, he can berate an installer, seduce a collector and flip to greet a Leo Castelli with easy alacrity. Should you wait long enough, an ‘eh-boot’ will betray his Canadian roots.



Another interesting thread in this report is the relationship between gallerist and artist. It is a special bond of many important things: sustenance, critical praise, direction and value top a long list. It is a relationship fraught with misgivings.

From The Beat and the Buzz: Inside the L.A. Art World
by Richard Hertz (2009)


"Doug Christmas has the most beautiful spaces. The one in the old Desmond's building is like a giant phosphorescent spiderweb, and my work looked great in there. Once, however, I wasn't even going to stay for my own opening. I had hung and lit the show. Someone suggested that there should be dimmer bulbs for the cigar boxes and I thought that sounded right. The day of the opening I stopped by to see how the new bulbs looked. I had washed the surfaces of the big paintings with very even light, so the paintings hovered. Doug had taken them down and put spot-lights up, making hot spots on the paintings. He was letting me know that it was his place, that he was in charge. I grabbed him and said, "I'm going home, getting showered and shaved and dressed. If the lights are still like this, I am not staying, I am not having dinner with you, and you and I are never ever doing business again." He did change the lights, but he didn't do it right."




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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