Douglas Chrismas, a longtime Los Angeles gallerist whose reputation began to dim around a decade ago after allegations of suspicious business dealings, was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigations on Tuesday on charges that he embezzled more than $260,000 from the bankruptcy estate of his now-defunct Ace Gallery.
Chrismas is currently facing three charges of embezzlement. If convicted of all three, the 77-year-old dealer could face a sentence of 15 years in federal prison. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges and is expected to face trial in September.
A now-unsealed indictment from March accused Chrismas of embezzling $264,595 from the bankruptcy estate. The indictment, filed in the Central District Court of California, alleged that he embezzled $100,000 owed to the gallery as part of a purchase of an artwork from a third party, and put that sum toward his own corporation. Chrismas is also accused of embezzling an additional $114,595 owed to the gallery by a third party for a separate purchase, and of writing a $50,000 check from the bankruptcy estate that he signed and paid out to his own corporation.
Chrismas founded Ace Gallery in 1967 in Los Angeles and later opened a second space in Beverly Hills, as well as a venue known as the Ace Museum. Prior to its closure in 2017, Ace Gallery had been considered one of the city’s top galleries, having shown artists like Tara Donovan, Sam Francis, Tim Hawkinson, Michael Heizer, Robert Irwin, Bruce Nauman, Ed Ruscha, Richard Serra, and others at formative stages in their careers.
Over the past five years, Chrismas has been plagued by allegations that his gallery withheld artworks and that he mishandled funds. In 2013, the gallery filed for bankruptcy amid what Chrismas claimed was a real-estate spat with the gallery’s landlord. Three years later, after failing to post a court-ordered payment of $17.5 million, Chrismas was fired from Ace Gallery by the forensic accountant assigned to the gallery’s bankruptcy proceedings.
Also in 2016, artists Mary Corse and DeWain Valentine filed legal complaints to re-obtain artworks allegedly being kept by Ace Gallery. Chrismas subsequently accused Valentine of owing the gallery money, which the artist denied.
ARTnews has attempted to reach Chrismas via the lawyer David Shemano, who represented him in 2016.