Wicker Park Gallery Being Sued For Damaging Vivian Maier Photos

By Chuck Sudo in Arts & Entertainment on May 13, 2014 9:45PM

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Photo courtesy Ron Slattery.

Of the three men who bought the photos of Vivian Maier at a storage locker auction seven years ago, Ron Slattery has maintained a low profile compared to John Maloof and Jeffrey Goldstein, the other owners of Maier’s life work. While Slattery hasn’t been as quick to capitalize on the rare discovery of Maier’s work as Maloof and Goldstein, he is as fierce to protect his portion of the Maier goldmine.

In January 2012 Slattery met with John Corbett and Jim Dempsey, owners of Wicker Park art gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey to discuss consigning 56 of Maier’s photographs on exhibit, with a total retail value assigned to the lot of $307,000. A deal was struck and Slattery delivered the photos to Corbett vs. Dempsey to begin the process of mounting and displaying the photos.

Here is where the story truly begins. According to Slattery, the gallery used excessive amounts of hinge glue to matte and mount the photos, which resulted in the glue soaking through the images and distorting them. Slattery contends Corbett vs. Dempsey compounded the damage to the photos by exposing them to excessive heat. Slattery later alleges Corbett and Dempsey sent 11 of the photographs to a local art restorer for repair, which were done incorrectly and without Slattery’s knowledge.

Corbett vs. Dempsey’s exhibit of Slattery’s Maier photograph ran June-December 2012. Slattery says during that time the gallery didn’t disclose the damage to the photographs, either to him or buyers. Ultimately, only two of the photographs were sold and, when the buyers discovered they bought damaged goods, demanded refunds or significant reductions of their original purchase prices. Slattery claims he only discovered the damage to the images after Corbett vs. Dempsey returned the photos to his possession.

Now that Vivian Maier is big business, Slattery has filed a lawsuit against Corbett vs. Dempsey seeking $200,000 in damages to the collection he consigned and an extra $2 million in indirect damages related to the value of his complete Maier collection. The Reader’s Deanna Isaacs spoke with Corbett vs. Dempsey’s attorney, Eric Vander Arend, who said the case will hinge on what the true value is of the Maier photographs:

”What are Vivian Maier photographs worth? And what percentage of value did they lose on account of what we did? We don't admit that the mounting affected them in any way that commercially devalues them."

Slattery is hoping the success of the Maloof/Goldstein partnership, which has resulted in a hit documentary and successful exhibitions in Chicago and elsewhere, will set the value for him.

Isaacs notes the case is heading for mediation in June.