Furious Dealers Contemplate Legal Action as the Cancelled Red Dot Art Fair Withholds Refunds

Furious Dealers Contemplate Legal Action as the Cancelled Red Dot Art Fair Withholds Refunds
Red Dot Art Fair
(Courtesy Bob B. Brown via Flickr )

NEW YORK — A group of disgruntled dealers are considering taking legal and potentially criminal action against George Billis, the director of Red Dot Art Fair, after he allegedly neglected to provide refunds for the fair’s New York edition, which was cancelled days before it was set to open during the recent Frieze Week in New York. Two participating dealers told ARTINFO that although Billis promised them full refunds when he announced the cancellation, he has since informed them that he does not have the money and is under no obligation to issue any refund.

The dealers, who asked to remain anonymous because they are preparing legal action or still in negotiations with Billis, respectively, said that the director offered them a 40 percent discount to participate in Red Dot’s Miami edition in the place of a swift refund.  “It’s a shocking situation, honestly,” said one of gallerists, who estimated Billis owed him around $7,000 for booth fees, electricity, and lighting. “Some dealers I know accepted that offer [to participate in Red Dot Miami], because they’d rather do that then lose the money altogether.”

The fair was cancelled three days before it was set to open on May 3 after the venue, 82Mercer, pulled the plug in the wake of mounting protests by local unions. At the time, a partner at 82Mercer, Vincent Fung, told ARTINFO, “We have a clause in our contract saying the client has to hire the correct labor so there are no pickets or strikes.” Fung said he had encouraged Billis to negotiate with the unions months before the fair was set to open, but Billis said he couldn’t afford organized labor. Asked whether he planned to provide refunds at the time of cancellation, Billis told ARTINFO, "Of course."

Now, however, circumstances seem to have changed. "He’s taking a very aggressive position, saying he’s not responsible and it’s not his fault. He isn’t conciliatory. He just says, 'There is no money, you have to be patient,'" said a dealer. Another gallerist estimated he spent a total of $20,000 on the fair, including a $7,500 booth rental fee, shipping, airfare, and hotel costs. He added that a number of his artists also paid to ship their own work to the fair, and several flew in from out of town to attend the event. Booths at Red Dot cost between $5,000 and $20,000, according to the dealers.

Gallerists reported having difficulty getting in touch with Billis after the initial cancellation. Currently, phone calls to the Red Dot offices go directly to an automatic recording and then to a message machine. When contacted at his eponymous New York gallery, Billis said, “It’s a rumor,” but added that he could not comment further and directed any additional inquiries to his lawyer. When asked for his lawyer’s contact information, the line went dead, and a subsequent phone message at his gallery and e-mail to Red Dot went unreturned.