London’s Mayor Gallery suing committee over authentication decision

Once again authentication is the hot-button art issue of the day as it was revealed London’s Mayor Gallery is suing an authentication committee for refusing to declare 13 works by Agnes Martin as genuine.

On 17 October, the gallery filed suit in New York state court against Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné LLC and members of its authentication committee. The Mayor Gallery claims the committee wrongly refused to authenticate the works which were submitted by four of its clients. Its refusal effectively rendered the pieces “worthless” since neither Sotheby’s nor Christie’s auction houses will sell works by Martin unless they are included in the catalogue raisonné.

The Mayor Gallery is seeking US$7.2million (£5.9million) in damages for “Tortious Interference with Prospective Business Relations,” which it will use to reimburse the four collectors who purchased the works at the centre of the authentication dispute. They include former Goldman Sachs investment banker, Jack Levy, who purchased Martin’s ‘Day and Night’ (1961-64) from the Mayor Gallery in 2010 for US$2.9million (£2.4million). Levy also purchased five abstract expressionist works from the now defunct Knoedler Gallery, which turned out to be fakes.

The authentication committee also rejected a work on paper purchased for US$240,000 (£197,390) by New Jersey collectors Patricia and Frank Kolodny. A similar fate befell ten paintings bought for a total of US$3.6million (£3million) by former Japanese Tobacco International CEO, Pierre de Labouchère. The fourth collector, Sybil Shainwald, purchased a work on paper for US$180,000 (£147,985). The Mayor Gallery has refunded all the collectors except Labouchère who has decided to wait for the outcome of the lawsuit before seeking compensation.

According to the Mayor Gallery’s complaint, when James Mayor pressed for the names of the members of the authentication committee he discovered that Arne Glimcher of Pace Gallery was among them. Mayor argues that this constituted a conflict of interest as Pace represents Agnes Martin’s estate and Glimcher established and runs the Agnes Martin Foundation. Mayor also suggested that the committee’s decision on the 13 works may have been influenced by his relationship with Glimcher with whom he does not get along.

Agnes Martin (1912-2004) was a Canadian-born American Abstract Expressionist painter whose minimalist works have fetched millions of US dollars at auction. In May this year, her work ‘Orange Grove’ (1965) was sold for US$10,693,000 (£8,790,901) at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art evening sale in New York.

Authentication disputes are considered problematic by art law experts but especially in rare cases where the artist is still alive. This occurred in August this year when Scottish artist Peter Doig appeared in court in Chicago to defend himself against the claim that he had falsely denied painting a desert landscape potentially worth millions of pounds. In what was considered a victory for artists and their right to authenticate their own work the Federal District Court for Northern Illinois held in Doig’s favour.

We will keep you updated as the Mayor Gallery case unfolds.

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