SANTA FE, N.M. — Ten pieces of art purchased by a Denver woman for about $350,000, including pieces from Australian aboriginal artists, were consigned for resale to two Santa Fe art dealers – but the buyer has never seen the art nor any money from its sale, according to a police report and the woman’s attorney.
But the gallery owners, while acknowledging they have had financial difficulties, said they do not owe the woman any money and that they are ready to make arrangements to return her art.
A Santa Fe artist involved in the matter said the woman told him she bought his sculpture “Bull” from the Marji Gallery in Santa Fe for $30,000, but he was told it sold for much less and he pulled the piece when the gallery didn’t pay him.
The case is being investigated by the Santa Fe Police Department after Deborah Donner reported it on Jan. 21. When contacted on Monday, Donner referred the Journal to her Colorado attorney Jim Bull.
“I don’t think she ever got possession of any of this stuff. Right now, we are trying to get the police department to take cognizance of this,” said Bull. He called it a convoluted situation. “I told her (Donner) it sounds like the Bernie Madoff of the art industry.”
Donner told police that, from Dec. 19, 2011, to July 12, 2013, she purchased, mostly via wire transfer, 10 paintings and one sculpture from Saher Saman and Margie Hoyle of the Marji Gallery, now located on Cerrillos Road, a police report said. “She received none of these paintings from the individuals,” she told police, according to the report.
“Her (Donner’s) intention was to buy certain artworks for retail (resale),” said Saman. “I have several works that I am managing and marketing for her.” He said he spent thousands of dollars to put the works in two galleries and several art fairs.
“She (Donner) acquired some pieces and has been trying to get possession of them. She hasn’t got possession yet, she has asked for possession,” attorney Bull said.
“If she contacts me, some of the work will be available in Dallas and I will make arrangements for her to pick it up,” Saman said on Tuesday. “There was never any intention of malice in any way, shape or form … . She (Donner) wasn’t getting paid, she was getting the artwork.”
Saman forwarded an email he said was from Donner, saying she would let them know of a specific date in January when she wanted to retrieve her art from Dallas, but Saman said he never heard from her again.
Bull said he has had minimal contact with Saman. “I think I talked to him (Saman) in July, got a couple of emails from him. I drafted a consignment agreement that he signed I believe,” he said.
Saman called the situation “kind of sad” and said he will be meeting with Santa Fe attorney Dan Marlowe today.
Saman had the Reed Contemporary Gallery in Dallas that closed, said Bull. “They have two galleries that opened and closed,” he said. Hoyle and Saman run the Marji Gallery, which has had two Santa Fe locations.
Santa Fe sculptor Taylor Mott is one of the artists caught up in dealings between Hoyle and Saman and Donner.
“I didn’t know about Deborah until four weeks ago when she called me,” Mott said. Donner had seen his work in the gallery and purchased a piece called “Bull” around January 2013, said Mott. “Deborah had seen and bought and paid for the piece at that time … she ended up buying ‘Bull’ for $30,000 and I was under the impression it sold for considerably less.”
Saman denied he sold the sculpture for $30,000.
Mott said he pulled his art, including “Bull,” a steel and railroad tie work, from the Marji Gallery after continuing problems with the owners. Although they had sold quite a bit of his work, “it was always difficult to get a hold of them. I never felt they were being upfront or honest with me so I pulled out in the fall a year ago,” he said.
Mott’s asking price for “Bull” was $6,000 but he said he has only been paid $1,400 for it so far and has an invoice backing him up. Saman agreed that Mott was owed money and that when the artists get paid, Donner would get her art.
The gallery called him in July and said they had sold “Bull” and needed it back. “He (Saman) implied ‘Bull’ had sold but I didn’t believe him,” said Mott.
After he pulled his work, he got paid for prior sales and went back with the gallery. Mott said whatever happens, he will make it right with Donner. “We are dealing with integrity; whether I see a dime, ‘Bull’ is going to Deborah (Donner).”
Mott was less charitable about the gallery owners. “These sorts of business practices, especially with artists, have got to stop,” he said.
Bonner purchased five paintings from the Marji Gallery by California artist Jeff Long. Two of them, “Regeneration” and “Admonition,” are valued at $52,000 and $24,000, respectively, according to a police report. Long told Donnner the paintings “had been returned to him and he was under the impression they had not been sold,” the report said. Long could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Several of the pieces in question are by Australian artists, said the police report, adding: “The other five paintings were all Australian aboriginal style that Ms. Donner had purchased from Mr. Saman’s gallery in Dallas, Texas, that has since closed.”
She then put the paintings on consignment for sale at the gallery. “Ms. Donner had an agreement signed by her and Mr. Saman regarding two of the paintings, “Blood Brothers” by Samantha Hobson and “Sand Hills at Mina Mina” by Dorothy Napangardi.” She tried to recover the paintings after the gallery closed but “the painting Mr. Saman claimed was Sand Hills was not the same painting she had purchased” and “she suspects that the original painting was sold at another show by Mr. Saman,” the police report said.
The aboriginal artists are members of the Lockhart River Art Gang, a group of young artists from Cape York, Australia. Their works have been widely exhibited internationally.