May 10, 2018

The sale of a $30 million Basquiat embroiled in a family dispute can go forward next week, a judge ruled.

Renowned collector Hubert Neumann filed a lawsuit earlier this month to halt the sale of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Flesh and Spirit (1982-1983) which was consigned to Sotheby’s by his own daughter. But a judge denied Neumann’s motion to stop the sale, scheduled for May 13, calling the collector a “stranger to this painting.” Indeed, Neumann’s claim didn't rely on contesting the legal ownership of the work, bequeathed to one of his three daughters by his late wife. Instead, Neumann conceded ownership but based his motion on an email agreement with Sotheby’s in which the auction house allegedly promised him control over the marketing of any works tied to the family collection. The agreement was just with Sotheby’s, Neumann’s counsel argued, meaning the painting could be sold through Christie’s or even eBay.
But Justice O. Peter Sherwood doubted he had any stake in the work regardless, repeatedly asking “What dog does your client have in this hunt?” before finding Neumann had no right to make any decisions regarding the work, and that any contract with Sotheby’s didn’t extend to this Basquiat. The judge also said Neumann had failed to establish the sale would result in irreparable harm, a central legal test for an injunction, because his case was limited to halting the painting’s sale through Sotheby’s, not the sale of the work overall. Neumann has already filed a notice to appeal the ruling.