Major Collector Sues Jeff Koons Studio, Gagosian Gallery—and the 9 Other Biggest News Stories This Week
01 A major collector filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Jeff Koons LLC and Gagosian Gallery for the non-delivery of three sculptures.
Collector Steven Tananbaum, listed as one of the top 200 collectors by ARTnews, filed a lengthy and colorful complaint against Koons’s studio and Gagosian in New York Supreme Court on Thursday. Tananbaum alleges that the artist and his gallery violated contractual agreements in relation to three sculptures purchased by the collector between 2013 and 2017. The works Balloon Venus Hohlen Fels (Magenta), Eros, and Diana originally carried approximate completion dates of December 2015, January 2019, and August 2019, respectively. But the fabrication dates for Balloon Venus and Eros were pushed back, as was the creation of a preview edition of the Diana sculpture, which Tananbaum was scheduled to view in October to determine if he wanted to complete the purchase or receive a refund, the complaint charges. The delays occurred without specific explanations; photo evidence of work in the process of creation; or the promise of a set delivery date, according to the complaint. In the most extreme case, the Balloon Venus work was repeatedly delayed and now carries an estimated completion time of 70 months from the purchase date, more than twice the initial estimate of 27 months. So far, Tananbaum has paid $13 million collectively for the sculptures—a sum that he could lose if he canceled the purchases—and still does not have a concrete completion date for the works. This has all occurred despite the fact that Koons has created other new works during this time, the complaint claims. Tananbaum also argued the defendants in the case failed to disclose where the works were being fabricated, along with other information required under New York arts and culture laws. Collectors wishing to snap up a Koons sculpture often pay millions for work estimated to be created years in the future. It is considered worth the wait, given the value of his pieces. But the Tananbaum complaint, which pulls the curtain back on the intricacies of the deals, argues that this system “harkens the name Ponzi” and that “something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” A similar lawsuit filed against Koons and David Zwirner in 2016, in which a collector claimed Koons failed to deliver the correct edition of a purchased sculpture in a timely matter, was settled out of court. A representative for Koons’s studio declined to comment to ARTnews, and Gagosian could not be reached for comment.
02 Jerry Saltz, longtime art critic for New York magazine, won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism.
(via The Pulitzer Prize Board)
Saltz had been a finalist twice before, in 2001 and 2006. The Pulitzer board commended him for “a robust body of work that conveyed a canny and often daring perspective on visual art in America, encompassing the personal, the political, the pure and the profane.” Saltz published a deeply personal essay last year, “My Life As a Failed Artist,” in which he related his own aborted artistic career to his development as a critic. As Saltz wrote in one part of the essay,“Outsiders often see the art world as a fashionable never-ending party, buffered from reality by money. Having been an artist, I see it very differently. I see myself as part of this great broken beautiful art-world family of gypsies, searching and yearning and in pain — and under pressure, doing things that they have to do.” Saltz’s accessible personality and language have given him a wide audience that spans art world insiders and casual art lovers; he also makes prolific use of social media, where he has an avid following.
03 A trove of 11 drawings by the late outsider artist James Castle was discovered hidden in the walls of his home.
(via the New York Times)
Officials from the town of Boise, Idaho, came across the cache of 11 never-before-seen artworks in December while overseeing the “investigative demolition” of part of Castle’s home, which is being preserved as a museum dedicated to the late artist. The Castle estate authenticated the pieces, worth an estimated $75,000, and donated them, along with 50 other works, to the city of Boise. The collective value of the gift is $1.1 million. The discovery of the artworks, which had been hidden by Castle inside the wall cavities of his house, shocked the small preservation team from the Boise City Department of Arts and History. But storing works in unexpected places was something the artist was known to do. “Castle hid his work in unusual spaces,” including in rafters and under barn foundations, as Jacqueline Crist, managing partner of the James Castle Collection and Archive, told the New York Times. Castle, who died in 1997, was born deaf and received no formal art training, but eventually rose to fame as a so-called “outsider” artist in the 1950s. The dates of the newly discovered drawings are uncertain, though experts place their creation somewhere between 1930 and 1950.
04 A new report found that there is a significant lack of working-class people employed by arts industries in Britain.
(via Create London)
The relatively unsurprising finding comes from “Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries,” a study released Monday by the U.K. nonprofits Create London and Arts Emergency. Using a 2015 survey and 237 follow-up interviews with people employed in the arts, researchers found that only 18.2% of those working in music or the performing and visual arts in Britain come from a working-class background. And only 12.4% and 12.6% of people working in film and publishing, respectively, have working-class origins. These numbers fall short compared to the U.K. population. “Aside from Crafts, no creative occupation comes close to having a third of its workforce from working class origins, which is the average for the population as a whole,” the report said. The study cited a few key reasons for the major lack in class diversity: Unpaid internships create a financial barrier for young people; employers tend to “culture match” during the hiring process; and the pay gap between men and women prevents retention and growth. The study also looked at the employment statistics of working-class people from black and minority ethnic communities (BAME) specifically, finding they comprise a mere 2.7% of workers employed in museums, galleries, and libraries, and only 4.2% of those working in film, TV, video, radio, and photography. The report failed to examine the lack of working-class people from other minority groups in the arts, with the authors writing that “the team are not experts in the field of disability or sexuality and LGBTQI studies, meaning those two axes of inequality are not the focus of the project.”
05 Chris Ofili’s controversial artwork The Holy Virgin Mary has been gifted to MoMA by Steve Cohen.
The billionaire hedge fund manager is a board member and supporter of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA); last year, he gave $50 million to its capital campaign. But this donation is of particular significance to the work’s new home city. In 1999, the Brooklyn Museum hosted “Sensation,” an exhibition dedicated to the brash Young British Artists, a group that included Ofili. On view as part of the show was his work The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), a 8-foot-tall canvas resplendent in gold that depicts a black Madonna—and is set atop two orbs of elephant dung, which read the words “Virgin” and “Mary.” Rudy Giuliani, New York’s mayor at the time, was so offended by what he saw as an insult to Catholics that he cut off public funding to the Brooklyn Museum and attempted to have it evicted, setting off a nationally covered legal skirmish in the culture wars. A federal judge quashed the mayor’s quest on First Amendment grounds. But as MoMA’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, Ann Temkin, told Bloomberg, the museum acquired the work on its merit, not for its role in the the controversy. “Setting aside its history and notoriety, it’s a magnificent painting,” she said. The work last sold at auction in 2015, fetching $4.6 million—an auction record for Ofili.
06 The Art Institute of Chicago received an unrestricted $50 million donation, the largest in its history.
(via the Chicago Tribune)
The windfall comes from Janet Duchossois, a trustee of the museum, and her husband, Craig, who runs the family company, The Duchossois Group, the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday. The gift comes with no strings or terms attached—the couple said they did not impose any kind of sanctions on how the funds could be used because of their trust in director James Rondeau. “I’m so impressed with James’ energy, his vision and his commitment,” Janet Duchossois told the Tribune. “It’s clear that I believe in James. Even more importantly I believe in the Art Institute.” In addition to the $50 million donation, board chair Robert Levy and his wife, Diane v.S. Levy, gave $20 million, though the pair specifically earmarked their funds for operations and acquisitions. The museum has not announced how it intends to spend either donation, but its long-term plans potentially include a new building dedicated to Asian art, the Tribune reported. While the combined $70 million gift is by far the largest monetary amount given to the Art Institute at one time, the museum did receive a group of works with a total estimated value of $400 million, bequeathed by Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson in 2015.
07 The Fearless Girl statue will move closer to the New York Stock Exchange, partly to assuage security concerns.
(via the New York Times)
The statue of a young girl staring down Wall Street’s iconic charging bull quickly became a selfie magnet after it was installed in Lower Manhattan last year by State Street Global Advisors, a Boston-based financial firm. Originally intended to be a temporary tribute to International Women’s Day, the piece’s popularity prompted the city to grant it an extended stay while searching for a permanent home. Now, the Fearless Girl will soon move to a new location on Broadway near the New York Stock Exchange. The area is already cordoned off from traffic, reducing concerns from officials who worried the crowds drawn to Fearless Girl in her old location near busy streets could be a target for a terrorist attack, the New York Times reported. The move temporarily defuses the feud between the the city and Arturo Di Modica, the artist behind Charging Bull (1989), who has argued through lawyers and threatened lawsuits that Fearless Girl erroneously turns his statue into a negative symbol. But that détente may well prove short lived—the city is looking into moving Charging Bull to the new location across from Fearless Girl, so that the animal and its foe can continue their tête-à-tête.
08 The famous monkey selfie lawsuit will continue after an appellate court refused to dismiss the case.
(via The Verge)
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is not monkeying around in a case that will set lasting precedent on whether animals have standing to file lawsuits or hold copyright. The case began in 2015, when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a copyright infringement suit against photographer David John Slater on behalf of Naruto, a crested macaque who snapped a selfie using Slater’s camera in 2011. The animal rights group claimed the party they represented—a literal monkey—owned the copyright to the image. It has already been determined by the U.S. Copyright Office that Slater himself doesn’t have any rights to the photo, following its 2014 ruling that objects created by animals without significant human intervention cannot be copyrighted. A judge dismissed PETA’s suit in 2016, also finding that animals cannot hold copyright, but the group appealed. Both Slater and PETA filed a motion to dismiss in the Ninth Circuit after they reached a settlement last year. But the appellate court rejected the petition and will issue an opinion, noting in a ruling handed down Friday that courts have the discretion to continue hearing a case in which a settlement and motion to dismiss could be an attempt to avoid unfavorable precedent by one of the parties. The court also pointed out in a footnote that Naruto himself—again, a literal monkey—was not a party to the settlement between PETA and Slater, and thus, under PETA’s own theory, could bring another case in the future.
09 A group of artists accused CB1 Gallery in Los Angeles of systematically failing to pay them for sold work.
In an open letter titled “artists versus CB1 Gallery” published Tuesday, nine artists accused co-owners Clyde Beswick and Jason Chang of a myriad of misdeeds that caused “financial damage and extensive harm to the studio practices among the community they supposedly foster.” They assert that the gallery failed to adhere to contract terms, failed to pay owed funds even after legal judgment, wrote checks that bounced, and sold work without telling the artists. “We are working hard to resolve any and all issues with the artists whose work we have shown,” Beswick told ARTnews. He did not respond to specific allegations detailed by two artists—Michael Mancari and Ain Cocke—who said the gallery never paid out thousands of dollars they were owed after it sold their works, including transactions dating back as many as two years. This is not the first accusation of financial impropriety leveled against Beswick, who spent 13 months behind bars after being convicted of embezzlement and filing false tax returns in the 1990s, according to a 2015 Los Angeles Times article that chronicled his “rise and fall and rise again.” After serving his time, Beswick opened CB1 Gallery in 2010, promising that he was a “better person” for the experience.
10 The Baltimore Museum of Art is selling seven works, including two Warhols and a Rauschenberg.
(via the Baltimore Sun)
The Maryland museum’s board voted unanimously to deaccession the works, which will be sold at Sotheby’s post-war and contemporary evening and day sales in May, in order to clear up space in the acquisitions budget to add works by women and artists of color to the collection. According to a report in the Baltimore Sun, Andy Warhol’s Oxidation Painting (1978) is expected to fetch between $2 million and $3 million, while Green Cross (1956), a work by Franz Kline, could bring in figures between $6 million and $8 million. A work by Robert Rauschenberg, along with another by Warhol, will be sold privately by Sotheby’s. The museum will also part with pieces by Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski. While it’s often controversial for a museum to sell art from its permanent collection, top administrators at the The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) maintain that it is simply a routine pruning of the holdings (the BMA already has over 90 Warhols, for example), and that the budgetary headroom provided by the sale will allow the BMA to focus on diversifying the artists represented in its collection. “It’s just a refining of the collection and will permit us to bring in other pieces we would not be able to afford at this point,” board chair Clair Zamoiski Segal told the Sun. It remains to be seen if the museum will receive public pushback on the plans, especially in light of the extremely controversial sale of art by the Berkshire Museum, also slated for Sotheby’s next month. While that sale garnered fierce criticism from museum groups for violating industry guidelines around deaccessioning, the BMA’s plans to channel the money raised by the sales back into its collection do not run afoul of museum rules.
Cover image: Larry Gagosian and Jeff Koons attend the French Institute Alliance Francaise Trophee des Arts Gala at The Plaza Hotel on October 28, 2016 in New York City, where Koons was honored. Photo by Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.