Art design

Perry Rubenstein, gallerist convicted of embezzlement, dies at 68

Perry Rubenstein, a gallerist who rose rapidly in the New York art world of the 1980s, then fell out of favor in the 2010s after a failed transition to Los Angeles ended in his conviction on two counts of embezzlement, died Thursday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 68 years old.

Sara Fitzmaurice, his estranged wife, confirmed the death but said the cause had not been determined.

Mr. Rubenstein was one of many prominent young gallerists to emerge in Manhattan in the mid-1980s, as a wave of Wall Street money swept through SoHo and Chelsea, taking away the work of artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat , Ross Bleckner and Julian. Schnabel.

A former Versace model with an impeccable flair for the next big thing in art, Mr. Rubenstein fits into the “in” crowd; for much of his career he worked as a private dealer for the very, very rich. He specialized in both rising stars and blue chips, trading works by Victor Matthews alongside Warhols and Lichtensteins.

He opened a public gallery on West 23rd Street in Chelsea in 2004, then made waves seven years later when he announced he was moving his operation to Los Angeles. He settled in a nascent arts district in Hollywood, opening his 9,500 square foot gallery with a solo exhibition by photographer Helmut Newton.

But he couldn’t make it work. Debts accumulate, sales slow down and in 2014 his gallery files for bankruptcy in the face of multiple lawsuits for breach of contract.

It wasn’t the worst of his problems. In 2012, he sold a work by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami for $630,000 on behalf of Massachusetts collector Michael Salke. Upon closing of the deal, Mr. Rubenstein added an additional $20,000 to his commission costs. Mr. Salke sued and during the discovery phase discovered that the buyer, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, had paid $825,000 for the work, with Mr. Rubenstein pocketing the difference.

Mr. Salke and Mr. Rubenstein then settled the lawsuit.

Shortly after, Michael Ovitz, the former chairman of the Walt Disney Company, sued Mr. Rubenstein for his handling of two works by Richard Prince. Mr. Ovitz said that Mr. Rubenstein sold one of them without his permission, for less than he wanted, and that Mr. Rubenstein refused to hand over the proceeds of the sale of the other work.

In fact, Mr. Ovitz said, Mr. Rubenstein had never sold the second work, “Untitled (de Kooning)”.

The two men reached an agreement in March 2016: Mr. Rubenstein would return the second painting and Mr. Ovitz would not press charges.

Mr. Rubenstein was therefore surprised to learn, four months later, that Mr. Ovitz and Mr. Salke had nevertheless filed a complaint and that there was an arrest warrant against him for two counts of embezzlement and a flight leader. Under a 2017 settlement, he did not contest the embezzlement charges and agreed to pay restitution to Mr. Salke and Mr. Ovitz. He was also sentenced to six months in prison.

Perry Roy Rubenstein was born on January 14, 1954 in Philadelphia. His father, Samuel Rubenstein, left his family when Perry was very young, and he was raised by his stepfather, Edwin Virshup, who owned a distribution company, and his mother, Lydia (Kogan) Virshup, a woman in foyer.

He attended Pennsylvania State University, where he majored in history and graduated in 1975.

Without a clear career plan in mind, Mr. Rubenstein flew to Europe. He lands in Milan, where he quickly meets other young people working in the city’s fashion industry.

One day someone came to his hotel looking for a fit model for a nearby studio. Curious, Mr. Rubenstein volunteered and a few hours later found himself face to face with Gianni Versace, who was just beginning his rise to the top of the design world.

Mr. Rubenstein took up modeling and he spent the next few years bouncing around the world in photo shoots. Along the way, he began to buy art, especially from young artists then emerging from Italy, such as Francesco Clemente, Sandro Chia and Enzo Cucchi, all of whom went on to great careers.

By the time he moved to New York in the early 1980s, Mr. Rubenstein had both an extremely valuable art collection and a long list of contacts in the art world. He lived in the West Chelsea building where Mr Schnabel had a temporary studio.

“Our first meeting didn’t go well,” he wrote in a 2022 Facebook post. “I was new to the mysteries of the contemporary art world and unintentionally insulted Julian in him asking where the paintings were at. He said, ‘They’re finished.’ … And U.S. too !

It was a rare misstep on the part of Mr. Rubenstein, who felt comfortable moving between artists’ lofts and bankers’ penthouse suites, his reputation growing as fast as the art market. of the 1980s itself.

He married Mrs. Fitzmaurice in 1996. They divorced in 2014. He is survived by his brother, Irv; his sister, Beth Virshup; and her daughters, Raffaella and Scarlett Rubenstein.

Although Mr Rubenstein had long made West Chelsea his home base – his home and office were there – it was not until 2004 that he joined the boom in gallery openings around him . Very quickly, it has three spaces, one of which is dedicated to emerging artists.

His move to Los Angeles surprised his colleagues, but he saw it as his next big challenge. The West Coast art scene was booming, and he believed he could replicate his success in New York in a less crowded field. He put everything he had into the project, and when it fell apart, he had nothing to fall back on.

After his release from prison, Mr. Rubenstein worked as a consultant to art collectors. He also wrote a memoir about his family, tracing their roots in Eastern Europe, as well as his early career as a model and art dealer. It hasn’t been released yet.


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