Andrew Crispo, disgraced Manhattan gallery owner, dies at 78

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Monday, June 17, 2024

Andrew Crispo, disgraced Manhattan gallery owner, dies at 78
The gallerist Andrew Crispo, at a space he was planning to open in the meatpacking district of Manhattan in August 1998. Crispo, a once high-flying art gallerist brought low by a long series of tabloid-worthy scandals, including tax evasion, extortion and implication in the grisly 1985 murder of a Norwegian art student, died in Brooklyn on Feb. 8, 2024. He was 78. (Andrea Mohin/The New York Times)

by Clay Risen

NEW YORK, NY..- Andrew Crispo, a once high-flying art gallerist in Manhattan brought low by a long series of tabloid-worthy scandals, including tax evasion, extortion and implication in the grisly 1985 murder of a Norwegian art student, died Feb. 8 in Brooklyn. He was 78.

His lawyer, J. Benjamin Greene, said that the cause of his death, in a nursing facility, had not been determined but that it came after a decline in Crispo’s health, including the discovery of an inoperable brain tumor. Crispo left no immediate survivors, and word of his death emerged only recently.

Crispo opened his namesake gallery at the corner of Madison Avenue and 57th Street in 1973, and for the rest of the decade, he ranked among New York City’s best-known art dealers. Although he lacked formal training in art, he was widely respected for his exacting eye, which he used to identify promising young painters.

“He could have been another Larry Gagosian today,” said David Ligare, an artist whom Crispo represented in the 1970s, referring to the Manhattan mega-gallerist. “He had such enthusiasm for art and such good connections.”

Crispo eventually expanded his gallery to a second floor, with the interiors decorated by his romantic partner, noted designer Arthur E. Smith. He owned an art-filled estate in Southampton, New York, and at one point had some $50 million in the bank.

Things were less rosy behind the scenes. His employees accused him of failing to pay bills and of keeping two price lists, one for artists and a higher one for clients, with Crispo pocketing the difference.

“It was a horror show,” Patricia Hamilton, who worked for him in the mid-1970s, said in a phone interview. “I was convinced that Andrew was never going to make it to the following month.”

He developed a cocaine habit and held after-hours sex parties in his gallery and in a nearby apartment. His carnal tastes leaned toward the sadomasochistic, and he spent long nights at leather bars like the Hellfire Club, in Manhattan’s meatpacking district.

On the night of Feb. 22, 1985, he and an employee, Bernard LeGeros, met a 26-year-old model and student from Norway named Eigil Dag Vesti. They left the club and went north, to an estate in Rockland County, New York, owned by LeGeros’ parents.

What happened over the next few hours is unclear; all three men were on drugs. But in the early hours of Feb. 23, Legeros shot Vesti in the back of the head, twice, with a .22-caliber rifle. Vesti was naked, save for handcuffs around his wrists and a zippered leather hood over his head.

Three weeks later, a group of hikers found Vesti’s body in an abandoned smokehouse near the LeGeros home. Forest animals had eaten away most of his flesh, save for that around his head, which had been protected by the mask.

LeGeros was arrested March 27. The case became a tabloid sensation; the news media called it the Death Mask Murder. Crispo denied involvement in the killing, and the police never charged him. He also never testified, despite LeGeros’ insistence that Crispo had ordered him to kill Vesti and despite the discovery of the murder weapon at his gallery.

“I don’t shock, frankly, but one of the most surpassingly ugly things that ever happened in the art world was that Andrew Crispo got off with no charges for the murder of Eigil Dag Vesti,” writer Gary Indiana told Interview magazine in 2020.

Two months after the Vesti murder, Crispo and LeGeros were indicted in a different case, charged with the 1984 kidnapping and torturing of a 26-year-old bartender named Mark Leslie. The case was not tried until 1988. LeGeros pleaded guilty, but Crispo was acquitted, having convinced the jury that the activity he participated in was consensual.

Once again, some people believed that Crispo had gotten away with a crime; after the trial, Joel Seidemann, a Manhattan assistant district attorney, called him “a master manipulator who deals in art by day and torture by night.”

While that trial had proceeded, Crispo was charged with evading tax payments of $4 million on $10 million in income. He pleaded guilty, and in 1986, he began a five-year sentence, of which he served three. The IRS seized his art collection and auctioned off pieces of it for several million dollars to recoup his tax obligations.

Crispo got out of prison in 1989. Just days after his release, his home in Southampton was destroyed in an explosion, along with the art inside. He sued the Long Island Lighting Co., claiming that it had placed a gas line too close to the house. A jury awarded him $8.6 million in 1991.

He used some of that money to buy a $2 million house in Charleston, South Carolina, where he said he intended to set up a new business. But he soon faced financial trouble and, after declaring bankruptcy in 1996, was forced to sell the house.

By then, however, he had managed to claw back the remaining art seized by the IRS. He sold off pieces of it, raising $14 million, which he put into his comeback, an art space that he said would be “the largest sculpture gallery in the world,” located in the meatpacking district.

“I do think that I am on the road to a great success,” he told The New York Times in 1998, “and I don’t think that I will let anyone be disappointed.”

The gallery was set to open in mid-1999. But that May, he was arrested yet again, this time for threatening to kidnap the 4-year-old daughter of a lawyer who had been involved in his bankruptcy case.

Crispo had grown irate after the lawyer’s firm, which controlled the money during his bankruptcy proceedings, delayed sending him a $2,000 check. He told the lawyer that he had photographs of her daughter at a playground, knew where she lived and would kidnap the child if the check did not arrive soon.

The magistrate judge, Michael Dolinger, refused to allow Crispo out on bond.

“The defendant certainly has had a checkered history up to this point,” Dolinger said, “and there is a sufficient threat of irrational conduct.”

Crispo was convicted, and in 2000, he was sentenced to seven years in prison. He got out in 2005.

Andrew John Crispo was born April 21, 1945, in Philadelphia. He never knew his parents, who deposited him in an orphanage soon after he was born.

By his late teens, he was spending most of his time on the streets of downtown Philadelphia, working as a prostitute around Rittenhouse Square.

By the early 1960s, he had attached himself to one particular client, Henry McIlhenny, a wealthy art patron and the chair of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. According to David France, in his book “Bag of Toys: Sex, Scandal, and the Death Mask Murder” (1992), McIlhenny tutored Crispo in art, finding him an apt pupil.

Convinced that art was his future, Crispo moved to New York City in 1964. He worked as an art runner, a type of flipper who bought an undervalued piece at one gallery and immediately sold it to another for a profit. The work required charm, financial smarts and a keen eye for art, all of which Crispo possessed.

In 1967, he found a job at the ACA Gallery, a bastion of New York’s contemporary art scene. It was soon clear that he had a better eye and a sharper business sense than many of the trained older gallerists on the staff, and by 1970, he was working with his own roster of artists.

He opened the Andrew Crispo Gallery after securing funding from a client, and he immediately made his mark. He staged a series of blockbuster exhibitions in the early 1970s, with glittering openings that drew celebrities like Liza Minnelli and Leonard Bernstein.

While his reputation among collectors and artists grew, his standing among other gallerists was mixed. He was known to play loose with rules about provenance and to delay paying insurance or shipping fees, if he paid them at all.

He was frequently embroiled in legal fights, and he was represented by lawyer Roy Cohn on at least one occasion, involving a wealthy Romanian art collector over a sculpture by Constantin Brancusi. Crispo won that fight and, after another complicated court battle with the Guggenheim Museum regarding the same piece, received a payment of $2 million.

As the New York gallery scene migrated downtown from the Upper East Side, Crispo found himself left behind — though he retained a few ultrawealthy clients, chief among them Swiss industrialist Hans Heinrich Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza. Crispo closed his gallery in 1986, around the time he entered prison.

Crispo’s partner, Smith, died in 1997. Crispo had been living in Smith’s Manhattan apartment, but Smith’s family forced him to move out after the death.

After getting out of prison a second time, in 2005, Crispo bought a co-op apartment and two ground-floor spaces in a residential tower in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, intending to open yet another gallery.

But his plans never worked out, and by 2017, he was facing bankruptcy again. He took out a series of loans from a realty company, using his co-op shares and some of his artwork as collateral. When he defaulted on the loans, the realty company took ownership of the shares.

Crispo refused to leave the apartment, and he erected a series of legal roadblocks to delay eviction. At the same time, he was growing erratic; he continued to use drugs and threw sex parties in his apartment, and on at least one occasion was seen naked and defecating in the hallway.

The realty company finally filed an eviction notice March 17, 2020, just as the pandemic took hold and not long before Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York imposed an eviction moratorium.

By the time the moratorium was lifted, in 2022, Crispo’s health had declined significantly. According to medical records he submitted to the court, he suffered from high blood pressure, heart disease and depression, among other ailments, and he used his condition to delay eviction further.

In September, a judge ordered the eviction to proceed, a decision Crispo appealed the next day. The appeal was still pending at his death.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Today's News

March 21, 2024

A museum's feminist artwork excluded men. So one man took it to court.

Study about purported ancient 'pyramid' in Indonesia is retracted

This was village life in Britain 3,000 years ago

World War II loot found in a Massachusetts home is returned to Okinawa

Legendary publisher Denis Kitchen offers 275 major works of original comic art April 4-7 at Heritage Auctions

Disney legend inductees Marc and Alice Davis Archive comes to Heritage April 5-8

Andrew Crispo, disgraced Manhattan gallery owner, dies at 78

Joan Jonas: A trailblazer shines at MoMA

The Morgan Library & Museum announces new Co-Presidents of the Board of Trustees, G. Scott Clemons and Robert K. Steel

Historic number of Rembrandts on view in Toronto

The walkway to nowhere: A monument to Hungary's patronage politics

Martin Luther King Jr. biographer wins American history prize

Christie's announces 'Timepieces from The Collection of Michael Schumacher'

Aribert Reimann, masterful German opera composer, is dead at 88

Summers Place Auctions to sell eclectic mix of lots in March sale

The Philharmonic's new season: What we want to hear

'I love to be a beginner': Emma Portner's busy ballet era

Big changes are coming to California's classical music scene

Review: An affair to dismember, in the gory musical 'Teeth'

'Illinoise,' a Sufjan Stevens dance musical, is moving to Broadway

Celebrating Timeless Elegance: Birthstone Jewelry's Journey

Yachu Feng & Shuyi Liu's work exhibited at the Milan International Contemporary Art Show.

What is the Free Bonus Code for 1Win ID?

Beyond the Rod and Reel: Exploring the Unique Charm of Islamorada's Fishing Charters

Power Play: The Intersection of Sport, Tech, and Slot Entertainment

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful