Jeff Koons has turned out to be the “world-renowned artist” at the centre of a highly publicised lawsuit between the London/New York Contemporary Art dealer David Zwirner and the Old Master dealer Fabrizio Moretti, who owns galleries in Florence, London, and New York. The multimillion-dollar suit revolves around the 2013 sculpture entitled Gazing Ball (Centaur and Lapith Maiden). The original filing claimed $2 million in damages, which has been upgraded to $6 million.
The latest complaint claims that Zwirner engaged in “chicanery” creating a game of “three-card monte” by giving the wrong edition number to the purchaser. It is possible that “many flagrant and knowing violations” of the New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law were broken in the deal. It all revolves around “a purchaser having a right to be given as much information about the piece of sculpture as is known to the seller.” But the bottom line is another edition of this sculpture failed to find a buyer at Sotheby’s and Moretti allegedly wants to wash his hands of it.
Apparently, Zwirner promised Moretti the second casting in an edition of three which also included an artist’s proof, but then attempted to sell him “the last of the numbered casts ‘3’ more than two years later with other casts receiving different numbers or dubbed ‘prototypes.’” It points out that a version of the work offered at Sotheby’s “purportedly numbered ‘3,’ even though it was fabricated and released more than a year before the cast offered to the Plaintiff as number ‘2’.” Confused? We certainly are! And to compound it there is nothing stopping this edition from being open-ended with the creation of several prototypes or artist’s proofs. Bringing into question the whole idea of editions.
“The law is very strict,” Moretti’s lawyer, New York attorney John Cahill, told an online news service, “If you say it’s an edition of one of four, you can’t hide that there is an additional sculpture by calling it a ‘prototype.’ The law was passed, in part, because it was recognised that buyers of art were spending real money for sculptures and looking also to ‘investment value.’”
The version of the work that failed to sell at Sotheby’s New York in May 2015 after being estimated at $1.8 – $2.5 million,led to Moretti’s claim that the work’s value was damaged. “Zwirner has admitted that the failure of the [work] to sell at auction was ‘disturbing and embarrassing,’” the plaintiff alleges in the complaint.
In the suit, filed in July, Moretti claims he paid for the work in full a year ago. “The Work still has not been delivered to Plaintiff and there is no reason to believe that it will be delivered anytime soon,” the complaint states. When the work wasn’t delivered, Moretti asked for his money back but hasn’t gotten the cheque or the numbered second casting.
Image: Jeff Koons, Gazing Ball (Centaur and Lapith Maiden), 2013