Four ex-staffers say dealer Nino Mier Gallery underpaid multiple artists and pocketed the difference

Nino Mier, the founder of one of the world’s fastest-growing galleries, regularly altered records to increase the company’s share of sales at the expense of artists from 2018 to 2019, according to documents seen by The Art Newspaper and interviews with four former staff members. A review of 21 invoices to clients and corresponding statements to artists, all dated within this two-year period, reveals discrepancies ranging from as little as $425 to as much as $7,000 each. The documents show that on a number of occasions the gallery, then encompassing three locations in Los Angeles, charged collectors higher prices and told artists the amounts had been lower. The business, the four former employees say, pocketed the difference.

Mier declined to comment to The Art Newspaper, and a gallery spokesperson did not deny the allegations. In a statement, the spokesperson said: “For more than a decade, Nino Mier Gallery has advanced, elevated and championed the work and careers of artists, and the gallery takes enormous pride in building such strong relationships with so many. While we do not comment on business matters involving patrons, artists or staff, the gallery always has and always will work to resolve any concerns raised in a prompt and professional manner and welcomes open dialogue with its artists. To that end, the gallery has undertaken an independent review of its records and will subsequently take any corrective action necessary.”

Altering statements

Sam Eddo, who worked at the gallery’s Los Angeles headquarters between 2017 and 2020, says Mier asked her “most weeks” to alter some of its artist statements, the documents issued to artists to detail each sale, including any discount extended to the buyer and the artist’s final fee. “This was one of the main reasons I left the gallery,” she says.

I would say, ‘We didn’t sell it at that price’… I would be reprimanded

Often, Mier would tell Eddo that the markdowns were designed to offset extra costs the gallery had accrued, such as expensive shipping or framing, she says. “I would push back and say, ‘We didn’t sell it at that price’ or ‘The frame wasn’t that much,’” Eddo adds. “I would be reprimanded. He would say, ‘My name is on the door.’ A few times, I decided to send the full price to the accountant anyway.”

Lexi Bishop, a former associate director at the Los Angeles gallery, says she became aware of the practice soon after her arrival in 2019. Mier, she says, “was insistent that the artist statement come from him, the gallery manager or the accountant directly and the other employees were not involved at all. As a director and artist liaison, I thought it was weird. Why wouldn’t I be giving these to my artists?”

Neither Mier nor the spokesperson responded to a question about whether the gallery continued to engage in this practice after 2019.

A ‘sort of betrayal’

Mier’s rapid ascent has captured the attention of the art world in recent years. He immigrated to Los Angeles from Austria aged 12 and later launched a catering company with his mother. “I was the sandwich boy,” Mier told Artnet News in a 2022 profile, recounting how he hand-delivered lunch orders to luxury boutiques on Rodeo Drive. After opening a series of cafes, Mier began collecting art and, in 2015, founded his first gallery in a converted cannabis dispensary on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Since then, his footprint has grown rapidly. In the past nine years, he has opened eight spaces in New York, Los Angeles, Brussels, Cologne and Marfa. (The Marfa and Cologne venues have since closed; the latter, which opened in 2018, was a separate project space and artist residency called Salon Mier, not a branch of the gallery.)

Mier’s rise coincided with the market’s growing appetite for work by young artists. He gained a reputation for identifying buzzy painters early in their careers and exposing US audiences to lesser-known European figures. The documents seen by The Art Newspaper reflect sales made to such notable clients as the actor and entrepreneur Jessica Alba.

Small Veil 1 (2018) by Louise Bonnet; records show she was paid $4,000 less than what she believes she was owed based on the gallery’s invoice to the buyer
Courtesy of the artist

The gallery did not alter records for every artist during the period in question, according to former staff members, so the scope of its invoice doctoring is unclear. The statements reviewed by The Art Newspaper were issued to five artists and reflect a combined discrepancy of around $31,000 across 21 transactions. In one example, a 2019 invoice listed the final price for a Louise Bonnet painting as $35,000. The artist’s statement told a different story: the sale price was recorded as $30,000 before a $3,000 discount. Since Bonnet and the gallery split sales 50-50, according to the artist, she received $13,500 instead of the $17,500 she believes she was owed.

Artists shortchanged

Although the dollar amounts of these discrepancies may appear small in the context of today’s art trade, the percentage differences between what the artists were due and what they were paid tell a more sobering story. In nine of the 21 cases, the documents show that the artists were shortchanged by between 20% and 54% of what they had earned.

Bonnet, who left Mier’s gallery in 2022 and is now represented by Galerie Max Hetzler and mega-dealer Gagosian, says: “It feels especially repulsive to be lied to, manipulated and robbed by someone whose business model relied entirely on making you believe that they cared about you as if you were ‘like family’ and because of this, one could trust them completely to make decisions as to what was best for one’s career, which seemed reasonable, since an art dealer’s success depends entirely on an artist’s trust, well being and ability to work. So in the end, this sort of betrayal is just so, truly, dumb.”

Of the four other artists who were affected, according to the documents, three—Jana Schröder, Andreas Breunig and Thomas Wachholz—did not respond to requests for comment. Jan-Ole Schiemann says: “I’m not aware of this practice and do not asperse [sic] Nino Mier to do so.”

Power imbalances

Experts say the ease with which dealers can alter sales records exemplifies how the art market’s opacity and informality can harm artists, especially at the start of their careers, when they have little experience with the gallery system and may not feel able to advocate for themselves. “There are certain artists who command a huge amount of power, but the vast majority feel relatively powerless in these situations and feel very reliant on their dealer,” says Natasha Degen, a professor of art market studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Some artists say Mier would often press his power advantage. Three artists who worked with the gallery (and who asked not to be named for fear of retribution) say they felt genuine gratitude for Mier’s support early in their careers, when a few hundred dollars would often mean the difference between being able to pay rent and coming up short. But, they add, he also sometimes demeaned their work, suggested he was largely responsible for their success and implied that they would be unable to secure better representation elsewhere. “He would say he was the only one who could handle working with me—he called himself my pitbull and said that he personally witnessed people flooding to take advantage of me, and he was different,” says one artist previously represented by the gallery.

In their statement, the spokesperson for Nino Mier Gallery says: “We always treat artists with respect, fairness and the intent to further their careers, and dozens of artists have and continue to benefit from their valuable partnership, and friendship, with the gallery.”

Contractual obligation

Whether it concerns Mier’s practices in 2018-19 or other alleged conduct by other dealers, the exposure of secretive and potentially exploitative gallery practices is especially relevant now that the demand for work by young artists has cooled and financially stretched dealers may be more tempted than ever to engage in creative—or deceptive—accounting. “A gallery has a contractual and fiduciary obligation to make sure the artist is paid their full share without any further shenanigans,” the lawyer Gregory Clarick says.

Bishop, the gallery’s former associate director, says she told one of the artists that she believed Mier was skimming off the top of his sales before she left the job in 2020. In her telling, the artist responded that he felt indebted to Mier and was unsure he could find other representation. “I felt he [Mier] was taking advantage of their ignorance,” Bishop says. “I think a lot of galleries do that.”

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