Former gallery partner James Oliver sues defunct Mary Boone over unpaid wages $15m in art

Former gallery partner James Oliver sues defunct Mary Boone over unpaid wages $15m in art
Mary Boone faces more legal woes for unpaid wages and more by former gallery partner, James Oliver. Courtesy Flickr Commons.

A former employee and gallery partner of Mary Boone has brought on a lawsuit against the defunct gallerist. James Oliver, a long-time associate who once came to her defence, is suing Boone for $44,325 in unpaid wages and his share of art purportedly taken by Boone from her gallery.

‘Mr. Oliver attempted on numerous occasions to amicably resolve this dispute before filing a complaint,’ wrote Brett Gallaway, Oliver’s lawyer, in a statement to Artnet News. ‘We believe Ms. Boone… improperly commingled gallery art and assets with her own personal property, which she still possesses, and therefore, do not view the closure of the gallery as a bar to collect the 10 percent distribution to which Mr. Oliver is rightfully owed.’

The lawsuit follows Boone’s 2018 guilty plea to charges of tax evasion for which, she agreed to repay the IRS $3 million. Then, just a year ago, despite the pleas of many art world big-shots, Boone was sentenced to 30 months in jail by a US District Court in Manhattan pre-empting the closure of her gallery, which she’d run since 1977. Now, Oliver’s lawsuit only adds to Boone’s long saga of legal issues.

When Boone’s 2012 tax returns first began raising questions, Oliver, who had worked with Boone since 1995, like many others, rushed to defend her. Oliver praised her for having been a role-model to aspiring gallerist and that ‘[a]long the way she [had] given endless hours of her time instilling the positive attitude and the exacting work ethic that her employees have needed to succeed in a very difficult business.’ However, Oliver’s tune has since changed.

In January, Oliver filed a lawsuit against Boone Associates, which was over Boone’s gallery, where Oliver was director for more than 15 years and a limited partner since 2015. According to the suit, investor and friend Boone, Sheila Meyer Zalower, and Boone’s son, Max Werner, hold fiver percent of the shares of Boone’s gallery. Co-directors Ronald Warren and Oliver each hold 10, while Boone held the remaining 70 percent.

Oliver’s suit claims that Boone profits from three paintings sold by the gallery were directly wired to her and used to pay her IRS penalties. It also states that nearly 20 paintings, worth more than $15 million, from the gallery have resided at Boone’s apartment. ‘Boone flippantly responded that “it’s mine and I am going to need it when I get out of prison,”’ states Oliver’s claim which calls for the payment of his 10 percent of proceeds. The lawsuit also raises concerns over insurance of the works that have yet to be sold.

Additionally, Oliver is seeking the payment of unpaid salary. According to the suit, for more than two months of work, Oliver was only paid $9,000 despite earning a yearly salary of $300,000, which comes out to $25,000 gross income per month.