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On 20 December 2023, Queensland Police charged Tove Langridge, the owner of TW Fine Art gallery in Brisbane, Australia, with nine theft offences and seized 20 works of art from storage units he had leased.

The criminal charges follow two years of legal tussles between several artists and Langridge over the return of their works, alleged unpaid sales proceeds and income derived through his art advisory, which provides prints to hotels and leases paintings to businesses. Much of this activity, the artists claim, has taken place without their consent or payment.

Alana Kushnir, a lawyer representing the artists, says the case is one of the first in which police have charged a gallery owner for “theft where an artwork has been sold on consignment and the sale proceeds have not been remitted to the artist. The repetitious nature of the conduct adds to the seriousness of it.”

A Los Angeles-based artist who wishes to remain anonymous tells The Art Newspaper Langridge is “very charismatic but also dodgy”. According to the artist, who met Langridge via Instagram and had a solo exhibition at TW Fine Art in 2018, Langridge always appeared more “interested in the optics of the gallery” and in being “Instagram-famous” than in operating a physical exhibition space.

Langridge launched TW Fine Art in 2014 as an “online art marketplace” selling limited edition reproductions produced in collaboration with artists. His initial offering included pieces purportedly by Michael Goldberg, an Abstract Expressionist artist who died in 2007, and his partner, the painter Lynn Umlauf, who died in 2022. Langridge worked as an assistant in their studios until 2013.

Halley Harrisburg, the director of New York’s Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, which manages Goldberg’s estate, questions Langridge’s early business. Rosenfeld and Manny Silverman Gallery, which represented Goldberg before it closed, “never authorised” any such prints, Harrisburg says, adding: “Michael was not a printmaker.” (Langridge did not reply to multiple requests for comment.)

Insta-expander

After opening a physical space in Brisbane in 2014, Langridge used Instagram to expand his roster, courting ascendant artists such as Sebastian Helling, Samuel Bassett and Taylor A. White. One former assistant of Langridge’s (who spoke on condition of anonymity) says: “He had a unique eye for spotting talent.”

Jordan Kerwick, an Australian artist now based in France, says of Langridge: “I knew a ton of artists internationally who wanted to work with him.” Kerwick started showing with TW Fine Art after meeting Langridge on Instagram around 2018. He and some others who did so now regret it.

Although Kerwick believes Langridge is a “horrendous salesman” in person, it did not matter on Instagram. “Most of the works he was selling of mine were going overseas,” he adds. But to date, Kerwick says, Langridge has never paid him.

Langridge’s commanding Instagram following also attracted unwanted attention. Stefan Simchowitz, the controversial Los Angeles-based dealer, approached two artists Langridge had “discovered” in 2019. According to the former assistant, Langridge became “very angry about the situation”.

The fallout saw Langridge ship work by one of the artists back to their studio in Europe; when the artist refused to pay the import duty, the shipment was returned to Brisbane. The artist, speaking on condition of anonymity, says he was “so tired” of Langridge’s “dirty moves” that he demanded the dealer “destroy” his works, “record it” and send photos as evidence. Langridge complied.

Kimberly Rowe, a California artist who first worked with TW Fine Art in 2016, says Langridge refused to return her painting Happy Birthday to a New York gallery, calling it “his baby”. Until recently, the piece was installed in a Brisbane bar co-owned by Langridge; Rowe says she does not know if it is among the works seized by the police.

Rowe estimates Langridge had between 50 and 75 pieces of her art in his possession prior to his arrest. “I did not give him permission to keep any of that work. I was not paid for any of it,” she says.

Following Langridge’s scheduled appearance at Southport Magistrates Court on 23 January, a further hearing was adjourned until 27 February. If convicted, Langridge could face up to five years in prison.

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