Battle lines drawn in case of Hue-Williams vs Turrell
Art dealer takes on American artist
By Charlotte Burns. Market, Issue 214, June 2010
Published online: 04 June 2010
LONDON. The legal battle between artist James Turrell and Michael Hue-Williams, the art dealer who closed his 11,000 sq. ft gallery in Battersea in June last year, will go to trial on 2 August after both parties were “unable to reach an amicable resolution”, said Peter Stern, of lawyers McLaughlin & Stern, who is representing Hue-Williams. The company that ran Hue-Williams’s Albion gallery was put into administration in April last year.
Stern said that Hue-Williams intends to file an additional lawsuit against Turrell for failing to supply what are known as “grey books”, documents that include instructions for Turrell’s works, and establish their authenticity. Stern said that the artist requires the books to prove his “consent to a sale. Turrell controls his own market by insisting any seller obtain his prior written consent. Whether an artist can legitimately do that is a big question.”
“Without the grey books the works have no value,” Michaël Gumener of Almine Rech, Turrell’s gallery, confirmed. “If you don’t have a grey book, you don’t own a James Turrell.” But Gumener said that while Turrell “wants to follow the location of the works, it is more an archival process, not to do with controlling the market”.
“James Turrell is not the villain in this story,” said Gregory Clarick, from the law firm Clarick Gueron Reisbaum, who is co-counsel for the artist. He said Turrell “does not control the secondary market for his works in any way”, adding: “We have no reason to believe that Turrell has failed to deliver to Hue-Williams any grey book properly due to him. Any effort by Hue-Williams to bring a new lawsuit on that basis would be frivolous.”
Hue-Williams first filed a suit seeking damages in excess of $2m on 19 July 2007 in the New York Supreme Court. He claims that Turrell reneged on creating eight works from the “Tall Glass” series, which Hue-Williams had presold to clients including Dallas oilman Vernon Faulconer and hedge-funders Ramy Goldstein and Israel Englander. Hue-Williams claims that Turrell acted “wilfully and wantonly”, and is suing for the “lost” commissions, as well as seeking damages for a tenth work he claims Turrell prevented him from selling to an unnamed buyer. The only completed “Tall Glass” transaction by Hue-Williams was a $580,000 sale to Louise MacBain, owner of Art + Auction.
Hue-Williams is also seeking damages in excess of $600,000 over commissions he says Turrell owes him on sales made to clients including the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Clarick said the claims are “baseless. Turrell never agreed to sell ‘Tall Glass’ works to or through Hue-Williams.” Clarick said that Hue-Williams had “breached [his] duties [to Turrell] by showing an incomplete prototype of Turrell’s work and purporting to presell works with no authority to do so”. He said: “Hue-Williams simply has no claim for money from Turrell and his effort to extract payments is absolutely indefensible,” adding that “as a result of these breaches, Turrell may well be entitled to damages from Hue-Williams”.
Hue-Williams said that the battle “was one of the main contributing factors in my decision to put Michael Hue-Williams Fine Art into administration. It is the single most important thing at the moment.”
Stock from the now-defunct company is being offered by private treaty sale with Charterfields asset consultants in a sealed-bid sale, with no reserves on works or price guides.
This article was first published in our June 2010 edition of The Art Newspaper (Art Market, p75). The printed version contained the subtitle “Bankrupt art dealer takes on leading American artist”. We accept that the use of the word “bankrupt” could lead some readers to infer that Mr Hue-Williams is personally bankrupt, which he is not. As explained in the article, Mr Hue-Williams voluntarily placed the companies that ran his Albion art gallery into administration last year. He would also like us to restate (as we did in our article online of 22 May “Hue-Williams stock offered in private sale”) that he is endeavouring to repay all his creditors, although not legally obliged to do so. We apologise for any distress that our subtitle has caused Mr Hue-Williams.
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