Lawyers dismiss Park West libel case
However non-binding judgement means part of action will still go ahead
By Cristina Ruiz. Market, Issue 209, January 2010
Published online: 06 January 2010
LONDON. A defamation case against two London lawyers who are suing the Michigan-based Park West Gallery over their purchase of a set of Salvador Dalí prints was dismissed last month, after a panel of three attorneys in Michigan assigned the case a value of $0.00. The panel, whose recommendations are non-binding, said the gallery should pay $347,900, around half the money they are seeking, to settle the couple’s suit against the gallery (The Art Newspaper, February 2009, p45).
The gallery withdrew its libel case against Sharon Day and her husband, Julian Howard, voluntarily. But according to Park West Gallery’s attorney Rodger Young of the firm Young & Susser, the gallery does not accept the panel’s other recommendations, so the case will proceed to trial later this year.
The story began in December 2007 when Day and Howard went on a cruise with Royal Caribbean. They purchased three Salvador Dalí prints from the artist’s “Divine Comedy” series, created in 1951, for over $97,000 from Park West Gallery which leases rooms on board Royal Caribbean cruise ships. After the cruise, Day and Howard purchased a complete set of Dalí’s “Divine Comedy” prints for over $483,000.
According to the gallery, each print in the series is signed by both the artist and the French publisher of the work. Day and Howard allege the gallery told them the acquisition was a sound investment which would escalate in value, a claim the gallery denies.
A few months later, Day and Howard decided to sell, but say they were told by a Sotheby’s expert that a complete signed set of “Divine Comedy” prints is worth between $60,000 and $80,000. At Day and Howard’s invitation, Dalí experts including Nicolas Descharnes, the son of the photographer Robert Descharnes, a friend and associate of the artist, examined the prints and concluded that although they are genuine, the artist’s signatures are fake.
Park West Gallery director Morris Shapiro rejected the findings of these experts and said three Dalí specialists, including Daniel David, current director of Les Heures Claires, the French publisher of the prints, determine that the signatures are real.
When asked why Park West Gallery had sold the prints for nearly $500,000—over six times the value apparently put on a complete signed set of “Divine Comedy” prints by Sotheby’s and over 40 times the highest price an unsigned set has made at auction—Jaye Quadrozzi of Young & Susser said: “The value of these prints has been discussed in detail. Morris Shapiro, in his deposition in this case, clearly discussed the fact that Park West itself has sold other fully signed sets for in excess of the price which Mr Howard and Ms Day paid for them.”
Meanwhile, the Michigan Court of Appeals also issued an order bringing Royal Caribbean Cruises back into Day and Howard’s case as co-defendants with Park West Gallery. They had previously been dismissed from the case because their attorney had argued that if anyone was at fault, it was Park West Gallery. But Donald Payton, the lawyer representing Day and Howard, said: “The cruise line provides a room for the auctions and makes upwards of 40% of all the sales.”
Royal Caribbean Cruises issued a statement saying: “Royal Caribbean denies any allegation or suggestion that it has done anything wrong. We take very seriously the issues that have recently been raised regarding some of Park West’s business practices.”
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