The Ace is Wild 

The Doug Chrismas story

Thursday, Oct 9 2003

Page 5 of 10

Chrismas inaugurated the new decade on a high note with a 1980 show of work by sculptor Mark di Suvero; that relationship ended abruptly, however, and di Suvero declines to explain why. In 1981, Chrismas opened Charmer’s Market, an upscale grocery store on Main Street in Venice that was plagued with problems from the start. During its first year, a 69-year-old pharmacist named Kate Walden sued Chrismas after she fell on the property and broke her hip. Her 18-month legal fight with Chrismas was in progress in 1982 when his company, Flow Inc., filed for bankruptcy protection. The following year Walden committed suicide surrounded by the clothes she wanted to be buried in, along with a set of interrogatories received in her suit against Flow Inc. In 1984, Chrismas filed a personal Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and in 1985 he sold Charmer’s Market to comedian Bill Cosby. Chrismas won’t disclose what he was paid for the property, but says, “That money neutralized everything.”

In 1981, New York artist Leon Polk Smith demanded that Chrismas either pay him $39,000 for consigned works or return them. Chrismas turned the art over to a shipping company with instructions that it be returned to Smith, but the shipper seized it instead to cover Chrismas’ unpaid shipping bills. Smith won a $40,000 judgment in his suit against Flow Ace Gallery, but the judgment was thwarted by one of Chrismas’ bankruptcies, and Smith, who died in 1996, was given a lien on one of the dealer’s properties instead. “Most everyone I spoke to in New York advised me most strongly to have nothing to do with Doug Chrismas,” Smith recalled in a 1986 interview with the L.A. Times.

Chrismas was the subject of four lawsuits brought by individuals in 1982, and that same year he opened Art and Architecture of the Twentieth Century, a bookstore located next to the lithography studio Gemini G.E.L. on Melrose Avenue. He also ran a full-page ad in Artforum announcing the summer opening of yet another Ace Gallery — this one in Paris — which Chrismas says he maintained “for a few years.”

Ace/L.A.’s 1982 exhibition schedule included shows of work by Sam Francis, Robert Therrien, and Ed Ruscha, who left Ace that year and went to the Gagosian Gallery. “I showed with Doug for nine years,” says Ruscha, “and although he always put on a good show, I did have my problems with him. Checks would bounce, he’d postpone paying money I was owed, and he had an endless supply of lame excuses along the lines of ‘It’s a Canadian bank holiday, so the check’s been delayed.’ I got away relatively unscathed in that I never had to go to an attorney.”

Joseph Lafferman, landlord for the Ace at Windward and Main, did go to an attorney when he sought to have Chrismas evicted after the gallerist fell behind in his monthly rent of $5,517.04. Lafferman sued him again in 1983 and 1984, at which point Chrismas moved his gallery in with his bookstore on Melrose.

“Doug is an adventurous guy who’ll sign any kind of lease — leases don’t bother him,” says artist Ed Moses. “If he can’t pay, he just doesn’t pay until he gets the money, then whoever has the most muscle has the best shot at getting paid. Doug operates like an artist in that he does daring things without having the money to back it up, and then he figures out how to pay for it.”

Chrismas certainly doesn’t seem to be intimidated by landlords. In the spring of 1983, Lalezar Kavian leased him a space in the 600 block of La Cienega Boulevard for $6,250 a month. A provision of the lease was that within 10 days of its signing some underground tanks located on the property be removed, and the surface of the area be compacted following the removal. Chrismas told Kavian that if he gave him $7,000, he would get the job done and oversee its completion. Kavian gave Chrismas the money, but the tanks were never removed. In July of that year, Kavian evicted Chrismas, who hadn’t paid his rent since May.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • Jay Z Grand Park Concert Is Official as Mayor Plans Announcement

    It looks like Mayor Eric Garcetti is going to officially announce that a two-day "Budweiser Made in America" festival is taking place  at downtown L.A.'s Grand Park. The mayor's office said today he " will make an announcement with Shawn "JAY Z" Carter, Supervisor Gloria Molina, City Council President Herb...
  • "Compton Division" Pimps Made Millions, Cops Say

    A trio of local pimps forced women to work the streets from San Diego to Las Vegas and beyond, cops say, and they allegedly made millions doing so. But now 31-year-old Robert Walker, 34-year-old Daniel Gunther, and 34-year-old David Sheffey, who called their crew the Compton Division, are behind bars, says...
  • L.A.'s Top 10 Streets for Bicycle Crashes Revealed

    You're probably already aware that there's a hit-and-run epidemic in L.A., and that bicycling in a car-crazed capital like Los Angeles can be hazardous to your health. See also: Critical Mass Bike Ride Recognizes L.A. Hit-&-Run Victims But the nerds at the MIT Media Lab's Social Computing Group recently came up...