Amy Chozick’s mostly excellent New York Times story summarizing the allegations from a spate of lawsuits involving the studio of Sixties commercial art celebrity Peter Max and the cruise ship auction gallery Park West has a number of disturbing details of Max’s family life. Those remain beyond the purview of an art market information site. So we’ll direct you to read the story for the lurid tales of spousal abuse, exploitation of a demented parent and aggressive art production.
Towards the end of the story, Park West brings out attorney Luke Nikas and former FBI agent Robert Wittman to bless the gallery’s practices and clothe them in some sort of art populism. Whatever one thinks of Park West’s practices which helps cruise ship patrons further the fantasy of luxury by participating in auctions for art they erroneously believe is a valuable asset.
The suits reveal some remarkable details beginning with the fact that Gene Luntz, who headed sales of Peter Max’s work at Park West, was generating huge cash flows:
- “According to an audit included in recent legal proceedings, from 2012 to 2018 ALP went from insolvency to Mr. Luntz generating a total of more than $93 million in sales. Its net profit for 2018 was more than $30 million — the studio’s best year ever.”
Peter Max had a long association with Park West Gallery during which he developed he practice of painting a work and setting aside the ones he’ thought came out best christening them “Peter’s keepers.”
- Mr. Max asked Lawrence Moskowitz, an insurance agent, and Robert M. Frank, an accountant in Amityville, N.Y., to help revive the business, according to a lawyer for Mr. Moskowitz. After Hurricane Sandy struck in the fall of 2012, he and Mr. Frank assisted in claiming $300 million in flood insurance on the New Jersey warehouse where ALP stored “Peter’s keepers.” So far, they’ve recouped $48 million, with Mr. Moskowitz taking a 10 percent fee.
Peter Max was such a draw for the gallery and the cruise ships that there is even a Peter Max-themed boat, the Norwegian Breakaway, and some patrons come on the cruises just to get access to the art or the artist:
- “Park West would request his presence at V.I.P. sales events, sometimes asking him to visit several cities in a weekend, according to three people who accompanied him. The gallery can sell more than $2 million worth of art on a single big-spender cruise, and meeting Peter Max in person was the ultimate perk.”
- “They promote the Park West auctions as an exhilarating onboard activity with complimentary Champagne — and take a cut of as much as 40 percent of sales, according to industry analysts. […] Over the years, dissatisfied Park West customers complained that they were led to believe they were buying “one of a kind” Max works that would appreciate in value, only to return to land (and reliable Wi-Fi) and learn that the internet was glutted with similar works. There were more objections to works by other artists, including Salvador Dalí.”