Dealers chase cancelled art show deposits

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 August, 1998, 12:00am

POLICE may be called in to help art dealers recover millions of dollars in deposits paid for stalls at Hong Kong and Singapore art shows which were never held - or blacklist the shows' organiser.

About 30 art, antique and jewellery specialists are understood to have paid up to $350,000 each for stalls at the Fine Arts and Antiques Exposition (FAAE) at the Convention and Exhibition Centre this year.

However, shortly before the show was due to open on May 7, FAAE director William Burris told dealers it would be postponed indefinitely.

The bombshell came after Mr Burris indefinitely postponed his three-day Tresors show in Singapore, just days before its April 27 opening. Gallery owners said they had paid $4,400 a square metre for stall space.

Hong Kong dealers said Mr Burris had ignored his own deadlines for an explanation.

One fax from his office in Britain informed dealers he had no contractual obligation to offer refunds and it would be 'inadvisable' for him to do so.

'He's been threatening to sue anyone who says anything,' said Master Painters owner Eric Smulders. 'What we will do now is go to the police and file a report. I hope we can avoid him ever coming into Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong again.' Dealers said they understood Mr Burris did not pay a deposit for space at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, although he had collected millions from them.

'We're almost resigned to the fact that we're not going to get any money back,' said Galerie La Vong partner Julia Wen.

'We're hard-working, honest small gallery owners. He has not the slightest conscience for people who have suffered.

Master Painters spokesman Mark Grol said dealers had formed a committee to discuss what action to take.

'We have been writing faxes, but that's not helping now, so we have to use a lawyer,' Mr Grol said. 'We'd have to sue him to get our money back.' A Singapore FAAE manager confirmed the company had been behind both shows, but was uncertain what would happen to the deposits.

'Mr Burris and [his wife] Karen Burris are taking care of the money. I'm not very sure what is happening,' she said.

Mr Burris declined to comment.