On 20 December 2023, Queensland Police charged Tove Langridge, the owner of the TW Fine Art gallery in Brisbane, Australia, with nine counts of theft and seized 20 works of art from the storage units he had rented.
The criminal charges follow two years of legal wrangling between several artists and Langridge over the return of their works, alleged unpaid sales proceeds and income from his art consultancy, which provides prints to hotels and rents out paintings. for businesses. Most of this activity, the artists claim, has been developed 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 with “theft where an artwork was sold on consignment and the proceeds of the sale were not sent to the artist. The repetitive nature of the behavior adds to its seriousness.”
A Los Angeles-based artist who wishes to remain anonymous tells Newspaper Art Langridge is “very charismatic, but also suspicious”. According to the artist, who met Langridge through Instagram and had a solo exhibition at TW Fine Art in 2018, Langridge always appeared more “interested in gallery optics” and being “Instagram famous” than 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 believed to be 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, 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 the closing, “never authorized” any such prints, Harrisburg says, adding, “Michael was not a printer.” (Langridge did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
After opening a physical space in Brisbane in 2014, Langridge used Instagram to expand his roster, connecting with rising artists such as Sebastian Helling, Samuel Bassett and Taylor A. White. A former Langridge assistant (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 several others who did so now regret it.
Although Kerwick believes Langridge is a “terrible salesman” in person, that didn’t matter on Instagram. “Most of my works he was selling 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 aftermath saw Langridge send the work of one of the artists 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 asked the dealer to “destroy” his work, “record it” and send photos as proof. Langridge agreed.
Kimberly Rowe, a California artist who first worked with TW Fine Art in 2016, says Langridge refused to return her painting Happy Birthday in a New York gallery, calling her “his baby.” Until recently, the piece was installed in a bar in Brisbane co-owned by Langridge; Rowe says he does not know if it is among the works seized by police.
Rowe estimates that Langridge had between 50 and 75 of her artworks in his possession before his arrest. “I didn’t give him permission to keep any of that work. I wasn’t paid for anything,” she says.
Following Langridge’s scheduled appearance at Southport Magistrates’ Court on January 23, a further hearing was adjourned until February 27. If convicted, Langridge could face up to five years in prison.