When Bansky’s largest ever art installation was unveiled on Church Street earlier this month, one of the first to appear on the scene to try to claim some undeserved credit for the street artist’s appearance in Croydon was the council leader, Tony Newman.
Newman, in familiar style, opted to take the opportunity to grandstand.
In a one-minute video, published on Croydon Council’s official Twitter feed, Newman appears alongside Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison, “who has driven so much of what Croydon is about with the Rise Gallery and other projects”, Newman said.
What Newman failed to state was that Zuchowski-Morrison was declared bankrupt in 2018 and his company, which ran the Rise Gallery on St George’s Walk, was wound-up in May this year owing at least one creditor tens of thousands of pounds.
“He’s an utter scoundrel,” one company executive whose business was owed money by Zuchowski-Morrison told Inside Croydon.
And now, it has emerged that a service established to authenticate and certificate genuine Banksy artworks has issued a warning to collectors not to do deals with Zuchowski-Morrison because of unfulfilled transactions, with payments made but orders left unfulfilled.
Some of those who placed orders with Zuchowski-Morrison or the Rise Gallery for Banksy artworks or prints are angry that the sometime “fine art specialist” has jumped on the bandwagon this week, organising tours of Croydon street art, including Gross Domestic Product, and all with a half-pint of over-priced hipster lager at the end of it.
“There’s a long list of us out of pocket,” one disappointed customer told Inside Croydon.
“Loads of us have been scammed out of money and purchases by this guy, and we are sick of hearing about him, especially now with GDP that he’s back at it, associating himself with Banksy. And the local authority is not batting an eyelid.
“He’s an absolute con artist.”
In May this year, they issued a formal warning to dealers regarding Zuchowski-Morrison. It said, “Please do not buy or consign Banksy works to Kevin Zuchowski-Morrison at Rise Gallery.
“We have seen repeated incidents where the print or money does not materialise.
“There are many excellent secondary market Banksy galleries and traders operating. There are also very dishonest ones.
“As a response to this we’ve brought the handling of secondary market sales in-house to guarantee a legitimate transaction for the buyer and seller, and minimise the fraud we have to deal with.”
And a specialist arts website, urbanartassociation.com, has a forum on which collectors and dealers exchange notes about deals gone wrong.
Last December, one frustrated Banksy collector wrote: “I wanted to warn everyone here on the forum. I agreed a purchase with [Rise Gallery] some five months ago – I paid the full amount two days after agreeing the price on a Banksy Grin Reaper and we agreed that it would be delivered one month later.
“The delivery never took place, repeated dates were agreed and missed and after two months I requested my money back. Five months later – I am still owed the money,” the Rise Gallery customer wrote. Certified versions of the 2005 Banksy artwork can change hands in internet deals for more than £20,000, though signed prints of the world-famous work are available at much more modest prices.
The disappointed customer said, “I have been lied to that the money has been transferred more times than I care to remember – I have had stories that are so outrageous that I have finally put the matter in the hands of a debt collector. He never answers his phone (work or mobile) and frankly I really would suggest you stay clear of him and his gallery.
“Sadly this has left a very bitter taste in my mouth about how some people have no ethics or good standing. I would hate to see anyone else go through this.”
Other erstwhile Rise Gallery customers also commented, including some who had had no problems in their transactions.
For this customer, though, it was probably already too late when he placed his order with the Rise Gallery: Zuchowski-Morrison had been declared bankrupt in July 2018 by a creditor’s petition to the High Court (Zuchowski-Morrison bankruotcy was discharged in July this year). Rise Gallery continued to trade for a while, though as a bankrupt Zuchowski-Morrison was forced to stand down as a director of the operating company, Recherche Fine Art Ltd, in August 2018.
But even this company was soon to be forcibly shut down, owing tens of thousands of pounds to a home counties company, Jackson Mechanical Services, after they have supplied cherry pickers and other machinery under a contract in September 2018. When those bills weren’t paid, Jacksons took legal action to have the Rise Gallery’s company wound up in the High Court, a process which was completed in May this year.
None of which seems to bother Croydon’s council leader Tony Newman, who cheerily stood alongside Zuchowski-Morrison outside Gross Domestic Product, and who ensured that the council’s official Twitter feed also helped to endorse Zuchowski-Morrison as a reliable expert on the works of Banksy.
Stopping just short of using the word “amazeballs”, the over-excited duo, the Dick and Dom of the borough’s street art, spoke into the camera to state their delight that Banksy had deigned to enhance Croydon with his presence. “What a beautiful day for Croydon,” Newman announces in the video.
“We’ve got this beautiful Banksy instalment down here where Surrey Street meets George Street,” Newman says, at once showing that he’d forgotten to use the word “installation”, and at the same time demonstrating that his street directions in the town centre are a bit shit.
“Culture at the heart of regeneration is becoming a reality,” Newman had the gall to say, standing outside a shop which, pre-Banksy’s temporary appearance, had been vacant for months, if not years.
Newman eventually interrupts his latest ego trip to introduce Zuchowski-Morrison. “Absolutely amazing. We’re lucky to have so many large pieces,” the art “expert” says, looking longingly over his shoulder into the shop window at what the world’s most famous living artist’s lawyer has described as Banksy’s “own range of shoddy merchandise”.
“This isn’t like one installation,” Zuchowski-Morrison gushed, “It’s a whole exhibition, a street exhibition basically, which is incredible and we’re lucky to have that,” he said, eyeing (another) main chance.
Soon after, perhaps encouraged by the council’s promotion of his apparent association with street art and Banksy, Zuchowski-Morrison – now usuing a new social media entity of KZMStudios – was offering tours of the town centre.
Zuchowski-Morrison arrived in Croydon in 2014, when he took out empty retail space in the already run-down St George’s Walk and opened the Rise Gallery, full of promises of cutting-edge exhibitions and repeated references to his close connections with… Banksy.
He was soon a fuly paid-up member of Croydon’s Glee Club, those cheerleaders for gentrification and redevelopment have helped get the town centre into the state it is in today.
It was not long before Zuchowski-Morrison was being wheeled out at public events, such as Croydon’s 2017 presentation at MIPIM, the international development conference staged in the South of France, alongside council chief exec Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini and former Croydon MP Gavin Barwell, to help artwash the redevelopment of the town centre.
Zuchowski-Morrison was soon being consulted over the spending of council money on sub-Banksy art installations in the £1.2million “regeneration” works on Surrey Street, which managed to drive away traders and large numbers of long-term customers from the ancient street market, although it is the case that you can now pay £8 for a pint of “craft ale” at one of the new bars that have opened nearby. So that’s nice.
One highly derivative piece of work, sourced by Zuchowski-Morrison, “The Boy Soldier”, was unveiled in Surrey Street soon after a terrorist attack in London.
Town Hall sources suggest that Zuchowski-Morrison was paid at least £50,000 by Croydon Council towards the cost of some artworks which have been installed around the borough.
There was a point when Zuchowski-Morrison was being hotly tipped to be granted the lease, or installed as some sort of grand borough curator, for an art gallery to be built in the underground car park space as part of the Fairfield Halls refurbishment. But as that project ran over deadline and £11million over budget, the gallery idea – like several other promised improvements for the Halls – was junked and forgotten.
And meanwhile, Zuchowski-Morrison’s Rise Gallery has been bulldozed, as part of the redevelopment going on opposite the Town Hall at St George’s Walk.
Today, we asked Tony Newman, the council leader, whether he considers it appropriate to use his office and the council’s communications department to promote a discredited bankrupt, whose art business – which has been funded in the past by the council – has been wound up by creditors who are owed thousands of pounds in unpaid bills, and who Banksy art dealers have been warned not to do business with.
Newman, as is his wont, failed to respond.
Inside Croydon has also made repeated attempts over several months to contact Zuchowski-Morrison. He, too, has failed to respond.
* This article was updated on October 12, 2019, to clarify that Zuchowski-Morrison is now only a former bankrupt.
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