Law Office of Stephen J. Goldberg

Business & Entertainment Attorney Los Angeles

Art Brief: Bad Behavior





Lisa Schiff

Lisa Schiff, among the top ranks of New York art advisors, who faces multiple lawsuits by clients and art dealers, put her company, SFA Advisory (with another office in London), into bankruptcy in May. Schiff, 53, who counted the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio among her rich and famous clients, was a member of the NYC art-world elite.

The bankruptcy filing followed shortly after two lawsuits against Schiff and her company were filed by real-estate heiress Candace Barasch, who charged that Schiff was running a “Ponzi scheme” with millions in funds intended for art acquisitions diverted to financing Schiff’s high-flying lifestyle instead. The suits accuse Schiff of a shocking betrayal—Barasch, a major collector, was a best friend and they appeared together at numerous art and society events.

In the first suit, Barasch and another Schiff client, Richard Grossman, maintain Schiff shorted them $1.8 million on the private sale of an Adrian Ghenie painting, arranged through Sotheby’s. The second suit alleges that Barasch and her husband paid Schiff’s companies more than $6.6 million over 18 months for acquisitions—including two purchases of sculptures from Gladstone Gallery—one of which was only partially paid for and the other not at all.

In the months after SFA’s bankruptcy filing, claims were made by numerous creditors, including London’s Stephen Friedman Gallery, Sotheby’s private sales department and artist Seffa Klein, who had exhibited at SFA’s gallery space, according to ARTnews.   

Winston Art Group, selected by the bankruptcy trustee to inventory SFA’s holdings, determined that at least 109 works valued at $1.13 million are missing, many by such prominent artists as Richard Prince, Alex Israel and Julie Mehretu, according to ARTnews. The Winston court filing reported that works valued at $3 million remained in Schiff’s possession.

Schiff began her advisory business more than 20 years ago, and in 2019 she opened an exhibition space in Tribeca, a somewhat unusual move for an art advisor—an inherent conflict of interest since advisors primarily represent collectors but could benefit by steering their clients to buy works by artists they also represent. Schiff gave a revealing interview to the New York Times in May 2022, in which she described the art market as “a ruthless, capitalist kind of space.”

Closer to home, there were developments in the art scandal involving the bankruptcy of LA’s once preeminent Ace Gallery and its owner Douglas Chrismas. In September, after 10 years of Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, the trustee put the last remnants of the gallery’s inventory up for an online auction by a liquidator, ThreeSixty Asset Advisors, for the benefit of the numerous creditors of the Ace mess.

The 300 auction lots represent the dregs of what remained of Ace’s art assets, much of which had been sold by the trustee over a period of years for the benefit of creditors. Collectively, the lots were estimated by ThreeSixty to bring in a minimum of $230,000. Many of the items were either small works, multiples or art exhibition posters. The oddest offering was a series of 48 pieces of clothing designed by Issey Miyake in the 1990s.

The bankruptcy trustee, Sam Leslie, brought a civil suit in 2017, alleging that Chrismas siphoned off millions from Ace’s bank accounts to two shell companies he controlled. In May 2022, a federal court judge granted summary judgment to the trustee and ordered Chrismas to pay more than $14 million for the benefit of Ace’s creditors.

Chrismas was arrested by the FBI in July 2021 and indicted for allegedly embezzling $265,000 from the time of the Ace bankruptcy filing in 2013 until 2016, when Leslie took over management of the gallery. Chrismas, 78, is facing a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison if convicted.  The trial date has been continued several times since charges were filed.

View article on Artillery Magazine