The Great Heights Art Heist

Artists claim they were ripped off by local gallery.

"I started to question their professionalism," Richards says. "I'd already invested a lot of money. And then I started to go by the gallery and it just seemed like there was no effort. Everything looked like crap in there."

Odd people hung around H Gallery, she says.  One day she went by with artist Ransom and found it staffed solely by a tattooed man described by Richards as "super-über-blue-collar." He introduced himself as "Scorpio," and his approach as an art gallery docent was unique, to say the least: Ransom says Scorpio pulled him aside to tell him "pussy jokes."

"And I'm about to show my art there, and this is the guy they have there minding the store?" Richards marvels. "If somebody comes in there and wants to talk about my art, this is who they are gonna talk to? I started having some more reservations."
_____________________

Jason Ransom was ecstatic after he made his first-ever sale to a stranger through H Gallery. Triumph was brief; his payment never came.
Chris Curry
Jason Ransom was ecstatic after he made his first-ever sale to a stranger through H Gallery. Triumph was brief; his payment never came.
Sandy Bernstein says that Jim Adams, pictured above, has inexplicably launched a vendetta against the gallery she helps her daughter Heidi Powell-Prera run. Adams says he has more than ten thousand reasons to harass the women.
Chris Curry
Sandy Bernstein says that Jim Adams, pictured above, has inexplicably launched a vendetta against the gallery she helps her daughter Heidi Powell-Prera run. Adams says he has more than ten thousand reasons to harass the women.

Powell-Prera and Bernstein have been in business since 2004, when they opened Gallery 19, West 19th Street's first art gallery. Since then, they've changed names and moved a few blocks west, but have somehow remained in continuous business for almost seven years.

How could they do it this badly for this long and stay in business? How could two women with criminal records, albeit petty ones (In 1998, Powell-Prera was convicted of writing hot checks and served six months probation, while her mom was convicted of unlawfully carrying a weapon in 1992 and did a couple of nights in jail), reportedly stiff so many people for so long and continue to operate in the public eye?

Some think shame played a role, alongside pity. Once these artists got taken, they started to wonder about the legitimacy of this art gallery. Had they really cracked into the art world, or simply fallen victim to a scam that preyed on their egos? "The problem is, no one ever really said anything to each other," says one artist who wished to remain anonymous. "I think there was some embarrassment, and everyone knew the bad financial straits that Heidi was in, so the artists just kind of slunk away."

Richards and Ransom blame a "code of silence." They both believe that developing artists are scared to speak out because to do so would get them labeled as troublemakers and blacklisted from future gallery shows.

And artists will stop at nothing to get a gallery show. Indeed, some will pay any price.

"Artists are so anxious to get their work shown that they hear what they want to hear instead of reality," says Sylvia White, an art consultant based in Los Angeles whose Web site artadvice.com helps young and developing artists avoid scams. "And some, but not all, gallerists tend to exploit that in artists because it's very easy to do."

White says that some artists allow themselves to be exploited. Overly eager to show their work, they let details like timely payment slide. She says that's the very reason some galleries are able to stay in business.

Metal sculptor Jim Adams, who says the gallery owes him money, says that artists aren't  "charging-ahead types" when it comes to the bottom line.  "I don't know why, but they are more like sheep or turkeys, this sort of thing," he says. "It's easy for them to get worked over."
_____________________

Despite her rising concerns, Richards was able to make not one but two fairly significant sales at her show: a painting called "Black Eyed Susan" sold for a thousand dollars, and "Taking the Ambulance to Higher Ground" for two thousand.

While the show was in progress, Richards says she asked Powell-Prera and Bernstein for a guarantee that she would be getting paid within 30 days. "Of course," she was told. "What do you mean? That's how we operate." (The women would later claim in e-mails to her that there was a 90-day window in which to pay Richards, but the point is moot. That deadline has now passed, too.)

The terms of the agreement Richards signed entitled H to about 35 percent of that money, and taxes and the expenses would eat up all the rest and then some, but at least she would have come close to breaking even. Richards believed that she would be getting a check for $2,079 within a month of the date of sale. Less the $2,200 she had spent on the event and the $375 she had given the gallery earlier, Richards would still be down about 500 dollars.

Even though she finished the night in the red, Richards believed that from a career standpoint her show had been a success.  If selling her paintings through the gallery would cost a hefty chunk of the proceeds, that was just part of the dance young artists had to do, and Richards wanted to prove to other gallery owners that she was a viable commodity, one who could make them money. She wanted to show the art world she would conduct herself professionally. "A lot of artists will pull works and then [later] sell them out of their car to someone who saw it at the gallery," says one local artist/gallerist. "[Selling through the gallery] was an honorable thing."

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180 comments
Dennis
Dennis

Artists: NEVER PAY TO PLAY!

Knowledge4power
Knowledge4power

Maybe now that the husband Paul has died (verified in the Chronicle www.chron.com), the mother and daughter can pay the deserving artist with any insurance they may be paid, and now this "personal problem" can no longer be used as an excuse to rip off hard working artists. We ALL have our own sad stories. Artists often have very sad stories leading to their artistic passion. Those women should get out of the business if they don't have a way to run things professionally. They have created nothing more than a ponzi scheme. I was hoping to have my first gallery showing there since I live only a few streets away and assumed... Thanks for the warning. I will protest on the street to stop them and warn unaware artists if a group wants to join me...?

Rodger Standridge
Rodger Standridge

I knew that I was not the only one that had money issues with Heidi in 2005, but I thought she must have gotten her books straight and changed the way she did bussiness... guess not. I hope that the District Attorney's office launches a criminal investigation of the gallery. If it's a case of bad bookkeeping then take a bussiness class and pay up, if its fraud then give them jail time.Please help emerging Artist and Dont buy from this gallery or this person.

guest
guest

I don't know anything to all about this art business, but I do know that Paul Bernstein died two days ago. He suffered a stroke in 2009 and was in & out hospitals since that time.

godsofthisworld
godsofthisworld

I know Jim Adams an how he lies about every thing even about his likes for little boys this pervert should be locked up so the cons would show what happens to lies & perverts his old ass will be show'en to everyone an he will get his everyone needs to stay clear of JIM ADAMS an everyone that hands with him

Timgreene
Timgreene

So H. Gallery stands for Heist Gallery?

Concerned UFO
Concerned UFO

You humans posses a collective conscience: a set of social norms by which a society and its members abide, when someone breaks the established norms, i tis perfectly just to punish such individuals by embarrassing publicly, specially when this embarrassment will alert other humans of possible harm. We admire that quality in you, our fellow humans. In our universe we do not have PRESS because we are telepathic.

And by the way since we have made contact, we would like to clarify that the Big Bang was not the beginning, and we do not endorse the theory of "Eternal Expansion."

The Big Bang was produced inside a black hole inside an alternate universe, and this happens all the time. Your very own universe is producing Big Bangs all the time.

Anyway, just thought you'd like to know

1 Heart
1 Heart

The Houston Press should stop all this mess. Why not do a story on how hard it is to be an artist in the town or a small business. Everyone wanting to cause someones downfall in the name of what? Progress, fame or just entertainment. Is this any different than throwing Christians to the lions. Artists in this town need patrons and supporters, not hate, abuse or a bull shit article about how we allow ourselves to get screwed. I am sure there will be comments stating how stupid I am or how someone wants to slap me for thinking this way, so I say now. You have the right to your comments, but maybe we should think about what we do when we chew on bloody, red meat in public.

Kristy
Kristy

Let's not get sidetracked. HGallery's representatives received money from artists in exchange for signed contracts promising to pay artists for their work when it sold. The gallery owners did not live up to their side of the agreement. All the personal crap being spewed in the comment section is nothing but a smokescreen. It is posted by the gallery owner & friends in a lame attempt to deflect attention from their own criminal activity.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

To whom it may concern,

To any art patron, customer, buyer, volunteer, or any citizen who has been made uncomfortable by the actions of anyone who has acted as part of a lynch mob towards H Gallery due to the article above. Please note that a Houston Police officer will be on duty at any gallery showings this weekend at this facitlity for your safety and protection.

rastasol
rastasol

has anyone EVER received their photos from Heidi the "photographer".... I gave her $50 to develop a roll....that was 3 years ago....ha...wonder how many others were takin for the lil stuff as well...Thank You Artists for taking a stand!!!

an HP fan
an HP fan

Claire Richards is a hero, and John too, this is what local press should be about.

Its ridiculous to see the unsuccessful attempts by these people to try to damage her name, clearly the owners of the gallery are the only ones posting in defense of H Gallery and liking their own posts as well as pretending to be part of the DA's office, its laughable which is just stupid. If they have something logical to say in their defense they should come out in the open, call the press, HP is not the only newspaper, I am sure someone would be wanting to cover their story.

This is an important social issue, just as important public funding and other local concerns, if the artists had no proof of the allegations, clearly this article would not have been written HP knows what they are doing.

matt
matt

While I cannot speak of personal experience with H Gallery, I can speak to the character and credibility of Claire Richards. That was her name 24 years ago when we met and it is her name now. And I will stand by her with a fixed and firm belief she is doing the right thing here. In court if I have to. So go on and hate. We will see who is right when the dust settles.

overyou
overyou

I am Claire Richards. I was born with that name and have never entertained the idea of changing it. I don't need to hide. The attacks against my character are laughable and I am grateful for them- because they really illuminate the fact that speaking out against this "gallery" (cough) was the right thing to do. Every time you guys attack me with your transparent, weak, and idiotic comments- you lose ground. You TRULY have no idea what I have spent my years of living doing if you think I could be considered any kind of criminal at all.

Instead of demanding that the artists here prove they were screwed, why don't you prove that you paid them?

Oh... guess you can't. It was just an idea.

Keep the hits coming. I love watching you dig.

Biased?
Biased?

tort of sedicious libelinvasion of privacytheft of business recordsgrand theft autoarsonreckless disregard for truthactual malicebreach of fudiciary dutyextortionstalking

This once was only about a few artists (sans Jim Adams) who had received most of their money, yet were waiting on the rest from a small business in Houston. Once upon a time, this is what the story was truly all about. Not anymore.

overyou
overyou

I am Claire Richards. I was born with that name and have never entertained the idea of changing it. I don't need to hide. The attacks against my character are laughable and I am grateful for them- because they really illuminate the fact that speaking out against this "gallery" (cough) was the right thing to do. Every time you guys attack me with your transparent, weak, and idiotic comments- you lose ground. You TRULY have no idea what I have spent my years of living doing if you think I could be considered any kind of criminal at all.

Instead of demanding that the artists here prove they were screwed, why don't you prove that you paid them.

Oh... guess you can't. It was just an idea.

Keep the hits coming. I love watching you dig.

Destroye666r
Destroye666r

oh tisk, what a pity that these women appear to read as convicted felons. oh, how sketchy their backgrounds, how awful their crimes. yes.

gentlemen, put out your cigars, on my word we move now.

Hoteltango88
Hoteltango88

In light of a recent post disparaging Claire Richards and Jason Ransom, the con victims of Heidi Powell-Prera & Sandy Bernstein, I am compelled to set the record straight. My name is Donald Tucker, I run Hardy & Nance Street Studios where they are both artists-in-residence and any claim that they are "criminals" or that anyone here is "afraid of them" can only be described as absolute bullshit. They are among the hardest working young people I know and of such character that I and the other artists in this facility are proud to have them as professional colleagues and friends. I have been a personal witness to the unfolding of this particular tale and look forward to the day that I might testify in court and under oath as to the facts involved as well as the character of these young people. Heidi Powell-Prera is not simply a small business owner behind on her bills. She is a thief who has a long history of systematically preying on young and trusting artists. I hereby issue to her the following challenge...sue me for slander. If you are as innocent as you claim, let's get this case in front of a judge. But be advised, I have identified a small army of your victims going back for years who would like nothing better than to have such a day in court and the opportunity to testify and put on record the long standing pattern of criminal behavior you have demonstrated in your dealings with them. I would also strongly advise that you and your attorney read up on similar cases such as that involving Hart galleries. They are currently doing fourteen years for operating the same scam...“robbing Peter to pay Paul.” ...“It was a classic Ponzi scheme,” Roll said. “They were using the newest customers’ money to pay off the oldest customers.”

As a working artist myself, I not only hope to see you in court but will do all I can to see that the appropriate criminal charges are brought against you.

you are stupid
you are stupid

Your uneducated and full of crap statement barely makes any sense. Did they ever teach you punctuation in school? What a ridiculous attempt to damage a good man's name. You should be ashamed of your self taking the side of rats and thieves. Of course, What else could be expected from people that are friends with H Gallery? a bunch of lying snakes

Stephen Hawkins
Stephen Hawkins

Do not... Believe.... The Aliens..... They are dan....gerous, We humans.... will achieve a collective.... mind. Money will be not...... be necessary.......in the future.....people will trade goods.....artist will trade art..... for food...... Galleries will not.....be needed

The owners of H Gallery..........should think about.........opening a Taco stand........ as long as they don't.......rip off their clients ........ by serving stray cat's meat....instead of ......beef.

Your ......Daddy.....Hawkins

True witness UFO seeker
True witness UFO seeker

what about the UFOs that hovered over the arts market that afternoon, they were wearing green when it was not St Patrick's day , how unfashionable, how come not body slapped them, get real people, stop the alien invasion

John Lomax
John Lomax

This is a story on both "how hard it is to be an artist in the town or a small business." If you believe that H Gallery ripped off all those artists, then the story shows the potential pitfalls of being an artist. If you believe that H Gallery simply fell behind in paying their artists, as Sandy Bernstein said, then the article shows the perils of running a small business.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

"an HP fan", can you please bring documentation that shows that what you wrote is true; "clearly the owners of the gallery are the only ones posting in defense of H Gallery and liking their own posts"?

Please bring your sworn statements and business record affidavits to this.

I also want you to bring business record affidavits showing how you believe someone is "Pretending to be part of the DA's office."

You just may be surprised to know just who has visited the DA's office and given statements.

......
......

dear hpfan....i am not the owner of the gallery...but when it comes time to go to court....you will see me and others take the stand...i beg you to go to this trial if and when it comes up, so you can see how incorect you are...

T.M.
T.M.

we have proof that we did take money from them, come to the trial

story teller
story teller

And you are saying that you have never received any of your money? Is this what you are saying publicly?

you sure 'bout dat?
you sure 'bout dat?

So, you're saying publicly that you've never been arrested? Is this what you are saying? Just curious. Some records on my desk indicate otherwise. Shall we play, "guess the crime"? I think it's important for people to know you so they can determine if this was biased reporting or not. For example, if you were convicted of arson, or of extortion in the past this would be of great interest to the readers.

......
......

convicted felons.....wtf...

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Donald,You just may get your wish. There are a lot of people who want both Jim Adams and "Claire Richardson" on the stand to answer a few questions. Namely, what is your real name? Have you ever been arrested or convicted of a crime? So far the DA is still waiting to receive the names and amounts from these ghost victims you claim to know and what has been found is a potential arson case and stalking charges. I believe your artists in residence have been blaming H Gallery as an excuse for not paying you rent on time. It seems H gallery is an easy target right now. So, I highly encourage you to dig up your "victims of a scam" and send them straight to the DA's office so that this may just turn towards your belief, instead of the way it's headed now, which isn't pretty at all. The reason Jim Adams has not been successful in getting his phantom "criminal" charges rolling is that his imaginary "invoice" is just that, it's imaginary. He is not owed money for art sales, or "loans" he scrolled on a napkin. And, he knows this. He doesn't even have a civil case. What he has is a newspaper, a very good reporter who bought his story, and a small group of artist that H Gallery has been in the process of paying. I encourage you to send "scam victims" to the DA's office post haste.

tango88
tango88

If you are not the owner of the gallery, why hide behind a bogus screen name? I am not the artist involved. I am Donald Tucker. I operate the studio in which Claire and Jason are artists-in-residence. Having done business with them for several years now I will be more than happy to testify as to their upstanding character when this CRIMINAL CASE comes to trial. As for the slime that takes advantage of the anonymity provided by public boards such as this to spew bile, you'd best stay anonymous. Otherwise you may be indicted as a co-conspirator in Ms. Heidi's crimes. I can't wait for this to go to court either. Please do make an appearance.

T.M.
T.M.

I meant to say didn't

overyou
overyou

Your desk is a shallow grave. Your tactic is boring and unimaginative. I have nothing more to add.

tango88
tango88

Yet another crock of fantasy from someone trying their best to distract from the fact that they have a long history of fraud and theft by deception.

A DIRECT CHALLENGE: If what has been written in the Houston Press and the claims made by a host of local artists (including myself) constitute libel and/or slander...then file the appropriate suits and let's get all the facts and testimony on record in a court of law. If your claims hold up, you stand to make almost enough money to pay off what you currently owe to artists. And that's a lot of money. At last count, more than enough to qualify as a Felony, by the way. But, the facts are that H gallery and Ms. Prera have been systematically ripping off young (and naive) artists for years. They have suckered them in with no intention of paying them or any history of adequate payment to support any claim to the contrary. She knows it...the artists know it...and shortly, the Justice system will know it.

And, regarding the list of victims...it will indeed be handed of to the Harris County District Attorneys Office soon enough, along with signed affidavits as to the results of their dealings with H Gallery. The only issue right now is when to close the list. As a result of Mr. Lomax's article, more artists are coming forward with the same story almost daily, and except for an embarrassed few, most have indicated not only a willingness to stand up in court and testify, but are indeed anxious to do so.

So, my advice is, unless you plan to skip town (or the country)...get your paperwork in order or make some up fast.

As for Claire Richards standing at this Studio, she is not only an outstanding tenant who keeps up with her rent, but she is the one person here I entrust with the keys to watch over things when I am away on business. Don't shoot your mouth off with insinuations when you have nothing but wishful, malicious fabrications to back them up as you have been doing since the Press put a light on your slimy operation. No one, including a judge, cares what your fantasies are. But a growing number of people do care a great deal about the facts surrounding your history with artists and how consistently their money and art seem to vanish when under your control.

As local artists, we may not be able to correct the ills on Wall Street or prevent any future wars, but we can and will certainly do what is right in this case and put an end to any further scams by this particular operation.

Have a nice day.

Steve
Steve

Gosh, I wish our citizens were less concerned about a small local art gallery and more concerned about things like our city services, budget, police policies...

John Lomax
John Lomax

There is no record in the Harris County district clerk's office of Claire Richards changing her name, nor does she have any criminal convictions. As for Adams, as was pointed out in my article, he furnished me with copies of canceled checks clearly marked "loan, due XX-XX-20XX" on the memo line. (Nothing scrawled on a napkin was sent to me.) As for "the small group of artists," I asked Bernstein to give me the name of an artist that they had paid in full. She either could not or would not. She mentioned some guy in Clear Lake who wrote them a nice letter, and somebody else, but would not give me any names.

T.M.
T.M.

i did not post that whats going on

T.M.
T.M.

if you are part of the DA's office, you should have no problem identifying yourself, but obviously you are not, you could be in trouble for pretending to be part of the police

T.M.
T.M.

I am not crazy

.......
.......

everyone will get paid for what we owe them, give us a break, mind your own business

.......
.......

we didn't take no one's money, we were simply late on our bills

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Mark, can you come down to the DA's office with medical documentation and business record affidavits that show how Sandy Bernsteins "brain must not be functioning that well"? They are of interest.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

Actually, Donald Tucker, it may be of interest to explain to you that it is unwise to issue veiled threats to any citizen, patron, volunteer, customer, et all who disagrees with your stance and who may opt to associate with, support, or assist Sandy Bernstein and Heidi Powell Prera. Any individual is free to support these women and/or their business.

There have been no criminal charges filed, nor are there any Judements declaring a "ponzi scheme" as Donald has written.

Donald, your victims who are "lining up daily", I'm curious, have they paid a visit to the DA's office? ( answer truthfully, I may know the answer to that). Donald, has Sandy Bernstein paid a visit to the DA's office? (answer truthfully, I may know the answer to that one too)

Donald, is there an open investigation into H Gallery? (answer truthfully, I amy also know the answer to that one)

You are free to bring any of your business records Donald, along with business record affidavits to the DA's office to support your stance, in fact, you being invited to do so.

There's some mighty big talk here, but so far things are not what they appear at all.

tango88
tango88

No threats are necessary. If you lie down with dogs, expect fleas. In this (criminal) case, anyone involved, either directly in Ms. Prera's Ponzi scheme or who lies to support her case is by definition an accomplice and subject to the full extent of the law as such. Hope to see you in court...and soon, "mystery lady". More victims are lining up daily and would very much like to be heard.

Mark
Mark

u have lost your mind Sandy, and your brain must not be functioning that well, your posts reveal your identity

......
......

donald tucker...are you threatening me?....

Cindyv
Cindyv

she is a snake in the grass

T.M.
T.M.

This is rucking fetarded

T.M.
T.M.

This is fucking retarded.

......
......

people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones....

Slam Dunk
Slam Dunk

oh? Ms. Richards, she who refuses to disclose what she has extracted from others. Was that a threat? Something is quite disturbing about you using the words "shallow grave". Especially after viewing your files. Very disturbing indeed.

Destroye666
Destroye666

or, do some people use a phony name so you can't easily find their criminal records?

telling
telling

I guess for some people, not having a criminal record means you must have had your name changed.

......
......

lomax....your article was nothing more than a smear campaign, and completely one sided...this may explain why less and less people in the area read the houston press...but i think everyne is looking forward to seeing how this plays out in court, where there will be people you never considered interviewing who will take the stand...at that point the real truth will come out, but i bet their will be no follow up article....

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

John, you may also like to know that the burden of proof does not fall on Sandy Bernstein regarding your article. The burden of proof belongs to you. She does not have to supply artists she has paid, nor her business records to you. The entire article of proof rests on your shoulders as business record affidavits are obtained from all of the victims and business institutions listed so that your story is not hearsay, but truthful. Can you bring any business record affidavits you have obtained surrounding your heist article to the DA's office so that a potential criminal heist case can be opened? You are welcome to do so.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

John, FYI... without a business record affidavit from Jim Adams' bank, the records do not exist in the eyes of the law. Just thought you might like to know that.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen

John, have you checked a potential name change for "Claire Richards" nation wide? Harris County is not her only residence. As well, you may send any and all scam victims with their receipts to give sworn statements. John, I personally believe you did an excellent job on this article, make no mistake. There are much larger concerns here however. Perhaps Mr. Adams did not provide a napkin invoice to you, but, are you aware that banks photocopy all checks that come through their processing desk? It is possible for someone with faulty intentions to scroll a new memo line upon receiving their check back from the bank as cancelled. Did you contact his bank and get an actual bank photocopy of the check they processed along with a business record affidavit? Just curious. You are aware that those records are important and will be used in any pending litigation. Perhaps Mr. Adams can provide those for you so that you don't have to get a lawyer to retrieve them on your behalf. It seems that what Mr. Adams has written on a check and what he has verbally stated do no match up. As well, has Mr. Adams or Claire Richards paid a visit to the DA's office yet? (I just may already know the answer to that so answer truthfully)

 
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