May 4, 2018

A bitter family dispute is threatening the auction of a $30 million Basquiat just weeks ahead of the sale.

Collector Hubert Neumann, known for his encyclopedic trove and enthusiasm for collecting younger artists, filed a lawsuit to halt the sale of a Jean-Michel Basquiat that has been consigned to Sotheby’s by his daughter, Belinda. This dispute dates back to 2016, when Hubert’s wife Dolores rewrote her will shortly before her death, cutting her husband out and bequeathing most of her estate to Belinda, her middle daughter. In his suit, Hubert contests the legality of that document, but his claim predominantly relies on charges that Sotheby's breached a signed, official agreement in which the auction house promised to consult the collector on all matters pertaining to work he consigned. Hubert said Sotheby’s violates these terms for a variety of reasons—for instance, in the collector’s opinion, the house is lowballing the $30 million estimate, as it sold a record-breaking $110 million Basquiat sold a year ago. But the New York Times reported that Sotheby’s said no formal agreement actually exists, and that it would win what it called an “eleventh-hour claim.” Hubert is moving to halt the sale, but, as of press time, the work is still slated as the 24th lot in the contemporary art evening auction on May 16th.