The National Gallery of Fine Art has apparently lost its association with National Geographic. Based on a multi-week investigation, I have been able to determine that National Geographic recently cut ties with the gallery amid legal complications.
I wrote three (here, here, and here) articles about National Geographic Fine Art Galleries (NGFA) spanning just over a year after the organization contacted me to sell one of my photos in their galleries. I discussed how the photographers are paid a mere 5% commission for works sold and the prints are signed with an autopen, a machine used to generate a signature. The autopen is legal for documents, but collectors have long been wary of autopen signatures on collectibles.
I also discussed the “Trusted.com” link on the NGFA website. Trusted.com is a company that “authenticates” works of art by assigning a “Trusted eTitle.” NGFA and Trusted are founded and owned by the same individual: Bekim Veseli. After the article about NGFA and Trusted.com was published, all mentions of Trusted.com were removed from the NGFA website.
I heard from a photographer who was never paid by the galleries. I also heard from a vendor who provided printing services to the NGFA gallery and wasn’t compensated.
There is also a $3.1 million lawsuit against Bekim Veseli for Unjust Enrichment and Breach of Contract. The lawsuit will go to a non-jury trial on February 22, 2021.
Most recently I heard from several photographers who informed me that National Geographic terminated the licensing agreement with the National Geographic Fine Art Galleries, as can be seen in this email:
Below is the text, extracted:
As a valued member of our photography community, I am writing to inform you of a recent development with the National Geographic Fine Art Galleries which have been operated by Veseli Fine Art under a licensing agreement with National Geographic since 2014. That licensing agreement, which led to the creation of the National Geographic branded fine art galleries in select locations around the U.S, has been terminated effective immediately. This decision is unrelated to the changes to National Geographic’s image sales agency business that we shared with many of you a few weeks ago.
We recognize the financial impact this may have on you and will make every effort to collect all sales information to guarantee that all commissions are paid.
There was a follow-up email to the photographers stating it was a “legal decision.”
Here are the notable sections, extracted:
This decision was a legal decision with a National Geographic licensee, not a business decision. It also means that we are bound by the confidentiality clauses in our agreement, which survive termination, so we are limited in the details we can provide.
The immediate impact of the decision is that the licensee (Veseli Fine Arts/VFA) no longer has rights to the National Geographic name or logos and no longer has rights to sell prints of images provided by National Geographic. Ultimately the branded sites and the branding on the stores will be removed.
There is no longer any mention of photographers or any photos for sale. They have also closed 3 locations. At the time of publication, the National Galleries of Fine Art were still using the iconic yellow rectangle as a favicon, however.
The brand’s Instagram went offline for a short time, before coming back online and republishing some images that it had previously shared, this time with captions excluding the National Geographic label. For example, this image was posted earlier this year and specifically mentions National Geographic:
But in a republish just one day ago, National Geographic’s name has been removed:
Note: PetaPixel has chosen to take screenshots of the Instagram rather than embedding the posts in order to preserve a record, as it is possible the original posts could be removed after they have been publicized.
The latest language seems to back up the finding that images cannot be viewed or purchased online anymore, as the most recent Instagram post urges you to visit a physical location.
I searched the federal courts via PACER, and several state courts, and I didn’t find any litigation related to this case. However, I did notice several executives of the National Gallery of Fine Art are now working for Bekim Veseli’s other company, LongView International Technology Solutions, a US government consultant company with $100 million in revenue.
Whatever the case, it appears my many misgivings about the Gallery were not without merit.
Editor’s note: PetaPixel reached out multiple times to the National Gallery of Fine Art for comment and was met with no response.
About the author: Ken Bower is a graphic designer and photographer. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Bower’s work has been published by VICE, Business Insider, National Geographic, and National Geographic Traveler. You can find more of Bower’s work on his website.