Sibisi ‘sell-and-run’ controversy

2013-01-20 10:00

It’s hardly a year since glamorous Thandi Sibisi opened her art gallery in Melrose Arch, Joburg, among much celebrity fanfare – and already she is in trouble.

Artists who have exhibited at her Sibisi Gallery are baying for her blood, alleging that she owes them tens of thousands of rands.

This week, Tshwane-based painter Talitha Els did not mince her words when she met City Press in Centurion and accused Sibisi of being a liar. Els alleges that Sibisi sold six of her works.

“Thandi did not pay me for the artworks. In fact, she lied to me and has successfully avoided me since last November,” said an emotional Els.

“She does not answer any of my calls or return messages, and she’s never at the gallery.

“I even got a lawyer and we sent her a letter of intent to sue. She ignored it.”

Though unwilling to publicly disclose the actual amount of money owed, Els indicated that it runs into the tens of thousands.

Sibisi shot into the media limelight last February when she opened her gallery with much pomp and ceremony, and was celebrated as the first black South African woman to do this.

But to the 91-year-old gogo she allegedly owes money, she is not a role model.

Rhona Gorvy from Killarney, in Joburg, spoke to City Press through her daughter, Elaine.

Gorvy was part of a joint exhibition with prominent Ndebele artist Esther Mahlangu, titled Matriarchs in Conversation, which ran from August 28 to September 25 at the Sibisi Gallery.

Gorvy alleges Sibisi sold a number of her works but has not been forthcoming with her payment.

Like Els, she is frustrated by Sibisi’s unavailability: “She absolutely refuses to return our calls,” she says.

City Press is in possession of a list of other artists who are said to have fallen out with Sibisi because of her “business approach”.

However, they preferred not to openly criticise the gallery owner.

When approached, Sibisi – who is currently in Washington DC – rubbished the allegations.

Via email, she commented: “As a business, the gallery has a standard agreement clearly stating that an artist will be paid 90 days after works are sold.

In some instances it could take up to 120 days, depending on the price of the work and how the buyers contract terms.

As works can be costly, some clients prefer to pay monthly instalments over a period of time.”

Regarding Els’ legal action, Sibisi responded: “My lawyer dismissed her threats as we have followed the contract.”

In the case of Gorvy’s complaint, Sibisi said her client’s last instalment is set for February 15, due to the value of the works.

We approached a reputable Joburg-based gallery to verify this business practice.

The source, who opted to remain anonymous, found it unacceptable.

“Though galleries do get defaulting buyers who may affect the artists’ payment, it is unreasonable for an artist to have to wait 90 to 120 days after their work is sold. It should happen immediately.”

Els, who vows never to do business with Sibisi again, said: “I don’t want her to get away with this!”

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