Thursday, May 01, 2008

Authentication Committee Suits

In today's New York Sun, Kate Taylor writes about the Basquiat and Boetti authentication lawsuits. She admits the latter story, in particular, is "tortuous," but gamely attempts a summary:

"[T]he basic gist is this: In 2002, eight years after the artist’s death, [New York gallery] Sperone Westwater presented an exhibition of 15 Boetti works. It sent the catalog of the show to the [Boetti] archive, which contacted the gallery to express concern about one of the pieces. After a representative of Sperone Westwater took the work to Italy so that the archive’s staff could examine it in person, the archive declared the piece to be not authentic, and the gallery removed it from the show. The archive made no comment at the time about the other 14 works in the exhibition, of which Sperone Westwater sold nine. Beginning in 2004, however, the archive started questioning the authenticity of some of the other works the gallery had sold, including one that was purchased by the Art Institute of Chicago. It also effectively nullified a certificate of authenticity it had previously issued for a piece the gallery had sold, asking the gallery to send the work to Rome so that the archive could re-examine it, as the complaint says, 'in light of alleged "episodes of counterfeited works."' There are more details, but, suffice it to say, these seeming vagaries made Sperone Westwater pretty mad. It threatened to sue, but the archive beat it to the punch by bringing the action in Milan. In the New York suit, Sperone Westwater asks the judge to make a declaratory judgment that the Archive has no moral rights claims and also seeks damages 'for the Defendants’ injuries to the Gallery’s business and reputation,' on counts of breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligent misrepresentation, and interference with business relations."

Toward the end, the article also breaks news about a third recent authentication suit:

"A judgment came down yesterday in another case, brought by the owner of a stage set allegedly designed by Alexander Calder against the Calder Foundation .... As in the Basquiat suit, the [plaintiff] in this case ... alleged that the foundation had entered into a contract with the applicant, a musician and conductor named Joel Thome. But the judge didn’t buy it. He granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, saying that accepting Mr. Thome’s application did not constitute a binding contract."