Service of Make it Clear and Keep Your Fingers Crossed

September 22nd, 2016

Categories: Art, Communications, Interior Designers, Miscommunication

Misunderstandings happen all the time between vendors who try to please and clients who hear what they hope or want to hear. Who knows who is right but clearly everyone can lose by winning.

In the first instance there’s Alec Baldwin and a well known New York art gallery owner Mary Boone. Baldwin “is suing Mary Boone in New York Supreme Court claiming the art dealer duped him into buying a $190,000 painting which was a copy,” wrote Hili Perlson on

In 2010 Baldwin thought he bought Ross Bleckner’s 1996 painting “Sea and Mirror” owned by an “unnamed collector” and said he got “a different version” of a picture with the same title and that Boone had put the gallery inventory number of the original on the work he bought.

Through her lawyer the gallery owner said that “Baldwin was made aware from the start he was not getting the original 1996 version of the painting.” Nevertheless, Boone has offered a full refund.

But Baldwin wants more. Perlson wrote he wants: “the difference between the purchase price of the painting in his possession and the current value of the original Sea and Mirror, which was painted, as Baldwin claims, while Bleckner was at the height of his artistic career.”

I’ve written before about the second instance that is so fitting to the topic and worth a repeat. An interior decorator carefully explained to her client—in front of a third person—that fabricating stationary window panels instead of curtains would save on the cost of the very expensive drapery textile she’d chosen, with a drawback: The panels, she told this friend-of-a-friend, would not move and would not fully cover the window. The client was fine with the sketch and the savings and said she could live with the downside and the panels were ordered and installed.

Arriving home and seeing the panels the client called the decorator in fury: “They don’t cover the window!” she fumed and said she wouldn’t pay for them. The third person, who had introduced the two, would not take sides.

Had the interior decorator asked her client to sign or initial the sketch she made on which she’d noted her warning that might have helped IF the client was willing to put her John Hancock to the sheet. [The client was a lawyer.] Had the gallery owner asked Baldwin to sign something that detailed what his $190,000 was getting him, his nose might have been out of joint, only earlier, perhaps avoiding the current muddle.

Proving a client/customer is wrong is messy and the worst business prescription. In the end it doesn’t matter how much paperwork a vendor has to prove a point unless the business retains pounds and pounds of legal support and has deep pockets budgeted for lawsuits. Apart from an airtight insurance policy to cover such misunderstandings, must most businesses expect to swallow such losses? Have you heard of similar examples?

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6 Responses to “Service of Make it Clear and Keep Your Fingers Crossed”

  1. hb Said:

    I think the key element to any business transaction is trust. If you cannot achieve it, you may do business and make some money, but you will not be successful. To have trust, you must start by changing the definition of the word, “success,” from the goal of trying to squeeze the most out of a deal, to one making sure each participant leaves the negotiation satisfied. If you do that, the rest will fall into place.

    The best deal I ever made was my 15 years working part-time for an Arab who was then one of the world’s 500 richest men according to Fortune magazine. During all that time, we spent less than 10 minutes talking about what I was paid, but hours and days discussing all sorts of other subjects. I think we came to know each other quite well.

    There were no lawyers or accountants. I had no piece of paper; neither did he. I was the only signatory on bank accounts, collected all revenues and paid all the bills including my fees and expenses. The businesses mostly lost money, and eventually, I recommended closing them all down. As they closed, I had less to do and paid myself less. The Arab never said anything until the end when I stopped working with him. To my astonishment, he then told me to pay myself a lump sum “bonus” of a “month of fee” for every year we had worked together, in the “original” amount we had agreed upon. It was by far the best “deal” I’ve ever made, and I’ve made a few.

    What did I do right? I didn’t steal, or even nibble, which I could easily have, I told the truth, which was usually painful. He came to trust me more and more, and with his support, I eventually got him out of the mess.

    Try not to do business with people you can’t trust. That goes for art dealers, lawyers and interior decorators as well as Arabs.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Sage advice, hb,

    It would be wonderful, as well, if clients were trustworthy. My business ran for years before I was stiffed a fee. I am lucky in that I can count on two fingers how often this has happened. It leaves a very bad taste, especially as I knew one of the clients before doing business.

    I don’t know Mary Boone. Wikipedia introduces her as follows: “Mary Boone (born October 29, 1951) is the owner and director of the Mary Boone Gallery and was instrumental in the New York art market of the 1980s. Her first two artists, Julian Schnabel and David Salle, became internationally known and, by 1982 she had earned a cover story on New York magazine tagged “The New Queen of the Art Scene.”[1] The Mary Boone Gallery has represented notable artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barbara Kruger, Eric Fischl, Ross Bleckner, and Brice Marden. Originally based in SoHo, Boone currently has two galleries, one in midtown on Fifth Avenue, the other in Chelsea.”

    I did know the interior designer who, in addition to being talented, was a solid citizen who was taken to the cleaners by a sleaze.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    My dealings are not high end, so there have been no disputes of these magnitudes. In the judges shoes, I would throw Baldwin out of court. It is he who should have requested papers proving the work as original — in short, a certificate of authenticity. He is either an ignorant, or was making a purchase with intent to harm sellers bank account and reputation.

    Over and above discussions and signing of agreements in the decorator case, it pays to get more than one recommendation, and above all, NEVER hire someone’s “friend.” Decorators have unique styles, and it’s wise to see that tastes are compatible.

  4. EAM Said:

    Often what is said and what is interpreted are two different things as your graphic depicts. Communication is really key and the art of listening is just as important as who is speaking. I’ve often revisited conversations where I’ve found what I “heard” was different from the intent of the message. For important matters, getting it all spelled out in writing is paramount as is trust as HB indicated. I also had a boss who never could look me in the eye. I wouldn’t ever work for someone again who cannot do that, because, to me, it made him untrustworthy.

  5. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You’d think that anyone spending $190,000 would ask for a chunk of information which is why I’m leaning in the direction you are: Should Baldwin or his estate want to sell a picture in this price orbit, especially if something happened to Mary Boone, he’d need proof of what it is. I think we are missing some aspects of this story.

    You are right about selecting a decorator based on style, not friendship. But so much business is done based on recommendation. You need a good dentist, accountant, stock broker, lawyer etc. you usually start by asking friends. There is the potential of something going wrong and then it gets tricky if it involved a friend but a good recommendation is often worth the risk.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    This is why it is often crucial to have a friend go with you to a doctor’s appointment that is more than a visit for a checkup or flu shot. When nervous or scared, hearing can go haywire and even numb. Did the doctor say twice a day or twice a week? One or two pills? Before, during or after meals?

    Also, some people are selective listeners or they think they know what you are about to say so they don’t listen at all. Two people discussing highlights of a client meeting can be like two witnesses at an accident. One says “blue SUV” and the other “green sedan.”

    Looking people in the eye can be cultural. We teach kids to look people in the eye but in some cultures it is considered impolite. However, I got the feeling that your ex boss was American. Eyes can fool you too I’ve learned. I have a friend whose eyes dance with pleasure when at a dinner party, for example. Checking with him after I often learn that he was bored to tears. So how can you tell what he’s really feeling? Check out his mouth. If in a straight line, he’s not happy.

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