Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Seeing this I can understand why you were so upset with me. ... I am sorry to have 'jumped the gun'"

Yesterday's New York Sun had a short piece on a lawsuit filed by London dealer Michael Hue-Williams's Albion Gallery against artist James Turrell. Turrell is a client of mine, and I'm co-counsel on the case (with Greg Clarick), so I was disappointed that the reporter didn't give us a chance to comment before going to press. (It's not like this is breaking news: the case was filed last July.)

If the reporter had talked to me, I could have pointed out that what the case is really about is a dealer who sold work he didn't have the right to sell and is now looking to the artist to save him from the consequences of his own misconduct. As we detail in our counterclaims, in May 2005 Hue-Williams sent Turrell a draft agreement regarding the series at issue. In September 2005, Hue-Williams wrote to Turrell to "nullify" that offer and make a new one. In December 2005, Hue-Williams wrote that he again "would like to redraft the terms of [the] offer," and he presented yet another offer.

Stop right there for a minute, and keep those dates in mind: May 2005 - draft agreement; September 2005 - offer "nullified," new offer made; December 2005 - offer "redrafted." Yet in Hue-Williams's own complaint (copy available on request) he talks about purported sales he made in February 2005 (paragraphs 17 and 18), May 2005 (paragraph 20), July 2005 (paragraph 21), and September 2005 (paragraph 22). So by their own admission Hue-Williams and Albion were selling Turrell's work before reaching any agreement with him. That's one of the bases for the breach-of-fiduciary-duty countersuit the Sun story mentions: that Hue-Williams promised Turrell's work to buyers, and collected payments from them, without Turrell's authority.

Another basis for the countersuit is that Hue-Williams displayed an unfinished prototype of the Tall Glass series in direct contravention of Turrell's instructions. Again, if the reporter had talked to us, we could have showed him a letter Hue-Williams wrote to Turrell in late 2006 admitting that he had "jumped the gun" and "acted too swiftly" and that, after seeing a properly completed work, he "now understand[s] why [Turrell] was so upset" with him. He acknowledged that as a result of his conduct Turrell's "trust" in him had been "so damaged" and said he was "sorry" for the "problems" he had created. I think that bit of context would have been pretty useful to readers.

Our counterclaims seek, among other things, the disgorgement of all commissions collected by Hue-Williams purportedly on Turrell's behalf.

The lawsuit has just entered the discovery stage, and is scheduled to stay there through January.