Toronto·CBC Investigates

More artists come forward, allege former gallery owner owes nearly $32K for missing or sold art

Five more artists are alleging a former Toronto and Port Hope, Ont., gallery owner owes them a total of nearly $27,000 for missing or sold artwork, following a CBC News investigation last week.

Steven Schwartz admits to owing artists thousands, says he wants to pay them back

Gosia Kosciolek, left, and Kelly Grace, right, say their former friend and gallery owner Steven Schwartz still owes them more than $8,000 between them for work he sold or never returned. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Five more artists are alleging a former Toronto and Port Hope, Ont., gallery owner owes them nearly $27,000 for missing or sold artwork, following a CBC News investigation last week.

The artists reached out after painters David Goldberg and Sebastien Wornsnip shared their frustrations trying to get paid or get their art back from Engine Gallery owner Steven Schwartz — who had their work on consignment.

Goldberg and Wornsnip say they're owed $3,000 and $2,000 respectively for paintings Schwartz either sold or never returned.

Now five more artists have come forward with similar allegations — which brings Schwartz's alleged debt up to $31,900.

And Schwartz isn't really disputing the allegations.

Former gallery owner Steven Schwartz disputes one of the artists' allegations but told CBC News 'everything else is pretty accurate.' (Ted Amsden/Port Hope Now)

In a phone interview, he told CBC News he doesn't remember selling, or still having, pieces by one of the artists who came forward, but said "everything else is pretty accurate."

'I just don't have the money'

"I've made so many good things happen, but when I was closing up there were a lot of things that went wrong," said Schwartz, who says he's now working part-time as a delivery man.

"I feel sad for everyone but at this point I just don't have the money."

But money isn't all that artists like Kelly Grace are looking for; they're also anxious to find out where their missing work is now.

For Grace, Schwartz was more than a gallery owner, he was also a friend for two decades.

The Toronto artist and her studio mate Gosia Kosciolek both gave Schwartz some of their work to show at his gallery when it moved to Port Hope from Toronto in 2014.

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      They say it was a "very good relationship" for the first couple of years, with Schwartz selling their work and paying them for it — but then things changed in 2017 — the same year Schwartz closed his gallery without telling them.

      "We just want closure," Grace told CBC News. "Like where the paintings are, where they ended up, like who bought them?

      "The last I heard from him, he said they must have been sold in the whirlwind of closing."

      Grace says that was more than a year ago — and despite phone calls, texts and emails since then, she and Kosciolek haven't been able to reach Schwartz since early 2018, when he returned some of their work.

      The pair say Schwartz returned three pieces each to them, but told Grace he'd already sold her remaining five paintings. She says she's still owed $4,500 for that work.

      Gosia Kosciolek says Steven Schwartz sold her faux bronze sculpture 'Olympia' and never paid her the $2,100 she was owed for the sale. (Gosia Kosciolek)

      "I have respect for our previous friendship," said Grace. "I don't think he was scamming anyone. I just think it's business gone wrong for some unknown reason."

      Kosciolek says Schwartz told her he'd sold a faux bronze sculpture of hers, and forgot to bring her another painting she's still missing.  

      For the sculpture and the painting, Kosciolek says she's owed $4,000.

      Gosia Kosciolek's painting 'Siren Dream' is the only piece of all the missing and sold work that Steven Schwartz says he still has in his possession. (Gosia Kosciolek)

      "We sort of feel like we have no voice and no way to contact him anymore," said Kosciolek. "I can understand why he's staying silent but also this is your business and you need to be professional."

      Schwartz says most of missing work was sold

      CBC News sent Schwartz photos of 14 new pieces. He said Kosciolek's painting is the only one of those works he still has in his possession.

      The rest "were either sold or I don't know, I don't have all the information about them," Schwartz said.

      That's bad news for Tadeusz Biernot, April Bending and Ellen Schildkraut. The three artists' missing work makes up the rest of the pieces CBC News shared with Schwartz.

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          Biernot says Schwartz owes him about $14,000 for five paintings of his that the former gallery owner sold in 2016. Both men say they came up with a payment plan, which Schwartz followed by paying $500 a month for a while.

          But then Schwartz says he stopped sending money to Biernot "when everything went awry" with the gallery.

          Bending only ever had one of her paintings with Schwartz, which she says she tried to recover before moving across the country in 2016. The Victoria, B.C. artist says she never heard back from him and she's owed $2,500 for the painting.

          April Bending says Steven Schwartz owes her $2,500 for her painting 'Out of Chaos,' but at this point she's more concerned with finding out where the work is now. (April Bending)

          Schildkraut is looking for one missing painting as well.

          She had two pieces with Schwartz after signing a consignment contract with him in May 2015. The Toronto painter says when she drove out to Port Hope to get her works back the following summer Schwartz couldn't find one of them.

          "I loved that painting," Schildkraut told CBC News. "But when he said he doesn't know what happened to it, that he didn't sell it, but he doesn't know where it is — like a painting doesn't walk out of the gallery on its own."

          Alleged offers of other art as collateral

          In place of her painting, Schildkraut alleges Schwartz offered her the work of another artist.

          "I said no, as much as I love his work," said Schildkraut. "It's terrible because if that artist was alive, let's say, that means that [Schwartz] would have cheated somebody else."

          Ellen Schildkraut loves this painting, which she says Steven Schwartz couldn't find when she went to take back her work from his Port Hope gallery in 2016. (Ellen Schildkraut)

          And Schildkraut isn't the only one who claims to have received that kind of offer. Grace told CBC News she turned down a vague offer to get another artist's work as collateral from Schwartz as well.

          For his part, Schwartz doesn't remember saying he would "pay them with any other artwork.

          "I think I probably said something about furniture, or something, or at least some kind of collateral," he told CBC News.

          Unlike the other artists, Schwartz also said he thought Schildkraut had taken back both of the paintings he had in Port Hope. 

          I want to somehow redeem myself and get work back and pay them.- Steven Schwartz, former gallery owner

          Schwartz says he hopes to find a way to pay back the artists. He says one of his friends is looking into holding an art show where a percentage of the profits would go to the artists he hasn't paid.

          After CBC News first reported on Schwartz last week he did reach out to one of the artists with missing work, David Goldberg.

          "I want to somehow redeem myself and get work back and pay them," said Schwartz.

          "I don't know how yet but that's always been my intention."

          About the Author

          Nicole Brockbank

          Reporter, CBC Toronto

          Nicole Brockbank is a reporter for CBC Toronto's Enterprise Unit. Fuelled by coffee, she digs up, researches and writes original investigative and feature stories. nicole.brockbank@cbc.ca

          With files from Chris Glover

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