Durham art auction offers hope for Ohio investors

The eclectic art collection of disgraced financier Tim Durham will hit the auction block Saturday in a sale that could help restore a small portion of the money lost by investors in Ohio's Fair Finance Co.

The collection of more than 100 works, including originals and prints from Renoir, Picasso and Peter Max, once appraised for $2 million for insurance purposes.

But it is unlikely the art will fetch near that amount at auction. Even a runaway success would make only a small dent in the $200 million Ohio families who invested in Fair Finance still are owed.

The offerings include dozens of Peter Max paintings—of an Indy Car, the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, and portraits of Bono, the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger. Another draw is a series of Max portraits of Durham, the flashy Indianapolis investor who used much of the proceeds from Fair Finance investment certificates to lend millions to other companies he controls.

Also up for bid: Renoir and Picasso etchings, Norman Rockwell lithographs, and a James Bond movie poster autographed by 007 actors Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Daniel Craig, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and George Lazenby.

The fact the artwork was owned by Durham could make it more valuable to collectors, said Kelly Burgan, an attorney representing Fair Finance bankruptcy trustee Brian Bash.

“We think the notoriety of this case will help value,” she said. “People have been wondering what will happen to the art since the inception of the case. We have had numerous people contact us with interest in the Peter Max and Renoir and Picasso prints and etchings.”

The trustee has advertised the auction nationally. Organizers expect bidders will pay at least the minimum on all of the works. If some don’t sell at the auction, managed by Cleveland Auction Co., the trustee will pursue an alternative method of sale, Burgan said.

Sharon Theobald, a senior fine art appraiser based in West Lafayette, wonders why the trustee didn’t choose New York City for the auction or select a company such as Sotheby’s or Christie’s that has a larger client base and a reputation in the art world for realizing the highest values.

She noted that the collection, with its mix of original works and prints, might not meet the standards of such an auction house.

The market for Peter Max paintings has been weak in recent years, with original works selling for between $1,200 and $3,600 at auction, well below the record $12,500 paid for a Max in 1990, Theobald said. Part of the reason is Max didn’t limit his output, leaving a glut of paintings and lax demand.

Durham's attorneys have acknowledged he owes tens of millions of dollars to Fair, but the trustee has struggled to collect on those debts because many of Durham's holdings, including his Geist home, serve as collaterial on loans to banks that have first priority for repayment.

Fair investors have pinned hopes on the auction of 18 Durham automobiles and the auction of his art collection. Most of the cars and works of art are free of liens.

An invitation-only preview of the auction offerings on Tuesday evening drew a few dozen people, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.

Public previews are scheduled from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday. The auction is set for 10 a.m. Saturday at 2230 Euclid Ave. in Cleveland. Potential buyers may also submit bids online through ArtFact.com.

Durham has denied doing anything wrong. His attorneys say in court filings that Fair Finance provided prospective purchasers of Fair's investment certificates offering circulars that disclosed insider loans and other risks.

However, investigators are trying to build a case that Durham duped investors. In a court filing late last year, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Indianapolis alleged Durham was operating a Ponzi scheme, using money from the sale of new investment certificates to pay off prior purchasers.

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