Motherwell foundation fights former employee over wrongful dismissal claim
Joan Banach is suing to be reinstated onto the board of the Dedalus Foundation
By Lindsay Pollock. Web only
Published online: 20 January 2010
new york. A pair of lawsuits winding through New York courts, pitting late abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell’s Dedalus Foundation against Joan Banach, a longtime foundation officer, have made little progress since first filed last March. The cases have bounced between various judges and courts, without coming to trial. Delays have arisen due to disputes over jurisdiction and administrative matters such as the court’s calendar. “The court process can be a lengthy one, but we are eager to get to trial and vindicate our client’s rights before a jury,” said Lee Bantle, of Bantle and Levy, one of Banach’s lawyers. The Dedalus Foundation and lawyers declined to comment.
In the interim, Banach filed an amended complaint on 10 April 2009, adding gender discrimination to a long list of allegations. The fight first went public on 25 March 2009, when Banach, a 61-year-old artist, curator and art historian involved with Motherwell since 1981, filed suit in New York State court seeking to be reinstated to the board along with her role at the foundation, where she earned $108,309 in 2007, according to the most recent tax filing available on GuideStar. Before he died in 1991, Motherwell signed a letter guaranteeing Banach “lifetime employment” at the foundation, she claims. She alleges she was wrongfully ousted by foundation president Jack Flam, “a man with overstated expertise in Motherwell’s work”, and “a temper against any who would challenge him”, according to her suit. Flam orchestrated “a malicious campaign” to remove her in retribution for disagreements over authentication of major Motherwell works of art. Banach was hired as Motherwell’s assistant in 1981, ten years before his death. She worked for the foundation as a curator, director and vice president before her termination in August 2008, according to her complaint.
Dedalus filed suit against Banach on 25 March in US district court, accusing her of selling “misappropriated” Motherwell works at auction and through New York gallery Knoedler and Company. The suit alleges that she “secretly” consigned 1958 Motherwell drawings to Christie’s that she had never disclosed to the board as owning, as is the foundation’s policy. The suit accuses Banach of having “misappropriated at least ten Motherwell works”, and selling $93,200 worth of work, without having reported these transactions to the board. Banach’s actions were “deceptive, self-interested and fraudulent”, according to the suit. Banach denies the allegations and says the works were gifts from the artist. The foundation claims $5m in damages, and asks Banach to return all Motherwell works and proceeds of sales, and reimburse the foundation for $324,874.57, the equivalent of two and a half years of salary and benefits.
The foundation’s assets tallied $59m in 2007, including $20m in Motherwell art, according to tax filings. Dedalus spends more than $2m a year on collection care and organising the artist’s archive for future public research. Flam earned $229,336 in 2007, and executive director Morgan Spangle made $239,588, according to tax records. Other board members include Richard Rubin, author and critic Dore Ashton, former Museum of Modern Art curator John Elderfield and Columbia University art history professor David Rosand.
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