MELBOURNE – The long-running dispute between Geoffrey Smith, current chairman of Sotheby’s Australia, and his former partner of 14 years, Robert Gould, a Melbourne-based private art dealer, has once again reared its ugly head. Since 2006 Smith and Gould have been embroiled in a series of public battles over assets acquired during their relationship.
Smith, 42, is currently in the process of suing Gould, 56, for a portion of the assets, which include real estate and a significant collection of fine art. The total value is said to be between $31.3 million and $58.4 million – $58.4 million according to Smith’s lawyer, and $31.3 million according to Gould’s lawyer.
Smith claims that he contributed to the couple’s personal art collection and also advised on most of the acquisitions made by Gould’s gallery business while they were together, and thus contributed to the gallery’s profits.
It is claimed that Smith’s contributions to the running of Gould’s gallery were instrumental in the rise of Gould and his business to national and international prominence – a sentiment echoed by one prominent Australian art dealer who says that without Smith’s intellect and knowledge, Gould would not have had the successful business that he has today.
Smith is seeking a share of the proceeds from a number of works by artists such as Brett Whiteley, Arthur Boyd, Howard Arkley, Fred Williams, Sidney Nolan, Charles Blackman, and Andy Warhol. Documents from 2006 estimated the works of art being fought over to be worth $7.3 million. Gould denies that the collection exists.
Allegations that Smith had an affair with another man during his relationship with Gould, and were thus no longer living in a domestic relationship as defined by the Property Law Act, are part of Gould’s defense against Smith’s claim. The man he is alleged to have had the affair with is none other than Sotheby's chief executive and former deputy lord mayor Gary Singer. Smith denies that the affair took place.
This is not the first time that the relationship between Smith and Gould has made headlines. In 2006 Smith, then curator of Australian art 1900-1970 at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), was suspended by his employer while investigations were conducted into allegations of misconduct relating to the implications of his relationship with Gould.
The 2006 inquiry into Smith’s actions began after it was discovered that in a sworn affidavit which emerged as part of the dispute between Smith and Gould, Smith stated that he had played a crucial role in developing the business of his former partner Robert Gould during his time as an employee of the NGV.
As a result of the 2006 investigation, Smith resigned from his position as curator at the National Gallery of Victoria.