More artists come forward with ripoff claims against midtown gallery

by: Rachel Stockman Updated:

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ATLANTA - More artists filed reports with detectives claiming they were ripped off by a midtown Atlanta gallery owner, after Channel 2 Action News first aired a story about the Bill Lowe Art Gallery.

Two weeks ago, Channel 2 shot video as investigators pulled computers and financial records out of the gallery on West Peachtree Street. Investigators were executing a search warrant. Bill Lowe is a major player in the Atlanta art world, and is known for selling expensive works to collectors.

"We just recently got back the computer forensics from the computers that we seized during the search warrant. At this point, investigators just need to pore through the evidence," said Sgt. Paul Cooper, who is in charge of the Major Fraud Unit within the Atlanta Police Department.

Police are investigating allegations Lowe sold art work to collectors and then never paid the artists fully which is required under law. Cooper explained this could be a violation of the Georgia Consignment of Art Act.

"Once the item is sold, there is responsibility to pay the artist first, make them whole before they (gallery owners) spend any profit or proceeds," explained Lowe.

Channel 2 Action News received many calls and emails from artists who said Lowe ripped them off.

"I contacted you because I've been trying to collect money from him for five years," Pennsylvania-based sculptor, Jonathan Hertzel told Channel 2's Rachel Stockman. Hertzel said he was never paid for his sculpture, which he believes Lowe sold to a collector.

"I think there are a lot of collectors out there that have art that don't legally belong to them," said Hertzel.

Todd Murphy, who is a well-known artist in the Atlanta area, said that he left Lowe about 10 years ago, after not being paid fully for his work. Murphy believes that Lowe needs to be exposed.

Donald Sultan, another artist based out of New York, was one of the first to file a criminal complaint with Atlanta police.

"He paid me a little bit. It strung on for a while until I realized he was just a crook," Sultan said.

Two local attorneys, Patricia Roy and Kevin Barr, said between the two of them they have spoken to about a dozen artists who have similar stories.

"It may very well be the first time the law (the Georgia Consignment of Art Act) is implemented and Bill Lowe may be a good test case for this law," Patricia Roy said.

In a statement, Bill Lowe said he works tirelessly to help his artists. He said, "The characterization of our interaction with artists as anything other than a vibrant, productive and committed advocacy is inaccurate, and a distortion of the full story of our relationships - -- many of which extend well over a decade."

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