On April 5, a New York State Supreme Court judge dismissed an art dealer’s lawsuit against authenticators of the works of the abstract painter Agnes Martin, rejecting claims that the defendants’ authentication decisions intentionally sought to cause the dealer harm.
Agnes Martin, who died in 2004, was an American abstract painter known for spare canvases composed of lines and stripes in muted colors. The defendant, Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné, is a private nonprofit founded in 2012 that authenticates works by the late artist and compiles its decisions in an online publication. Also named in the suit are the catalogue’s founding member, the catalogue’s editor, and four anonymous members of the catalogue’s authentication committee.
The London-based Mayor Gallery filed the lawsuit last October, after the defendants declined to authenticate thirteen works that the gallery had sold to private collectors as genuine Martin creations. According to the gallery, the catalogue announced its decision to reject each of the works with a “cursory form letter, without explanation of any kind.” Two of the private collectors subsequently returned the works to the gallery and received refunds, while two others retained ownership of the works while the gallery sought to establish their authenticity.
The complaint brought seven counts against the defendants and sought $7.2 million in damages. Five of these—for product disparagement, tortious interference with contract, tortious interference with prospective business relations, negligent misrepresentation, and “gross negligence and breach of contract”—were brought with respect to all 13 works.
A sixth count, for breach of implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, was brought with respect to a single work, titled Day and Night, which the gallery had resubmitted to the catalogue after the catalogue rejected its submission by a private collector. The gallery also included a seventh count under New York’s deceptive business practices law.
Judge Masley of the 1st Judicial Term dismissed the gallery’s complaint for a variety of reasons. She found the gallery lacked standing on the tort claims respecting the works submitted to the catalogue by collectors who had not yet rescinded their purchases. She also dismissed the first through sixth counts as against the individual members of the authentication committee, finding the complaint failed to meet the enhanced pleading requirement for allegations of personal liability for corporate officers.
The dismissal of other counts turned on the judge’s finding that the gallery had offered nothing more than conclusory allegations that the catalogue acted intentionally or with malice in rejecting the submissions at issue. The opinion also noted that the gallery’s agreement with the catalogue granted the catalogue “sole discretion” to examine submitted works. In addition to the dismissal, Judge Masley awarded attorney’s fees to the authenticators, while granting the plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint on all but one of its original causes of action.
Agnes Martin, The Guggenheim, https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/artist/agnes-martin (last visited Apr. 15, 2018).
Eileen Kinsella, Judge Throws Out Closely Watched Lawsuit Against the Agnes Martin Authentication Committee, artnet (Apr. 5, 2018), https://news.artnet.com/art-world/judge-dismisses-lawsuit-agnes-martin-committee-1260539.
The Mayor Gallery Ltd. v. The Agnes Martin Catalogue Raisonné LLC, No. 655489/2016, 2018 WL 1638810 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Apr. 5, 2018).