It seems that in the world of contemporary art a gentleman’s word is no longer his bond. Until now few agreements between artists and their dealers were written down, but the decision by Sonnabend gallery to sue artist Peter Halley for breach of contract and damages may change all this. Halley recently left Sonnabend after six years, to join Gagosian who are currently holding a show of the artist’s recent works. According to documents consigned by Sonnabend to the Supreme Court on 13 May, Halley had already agreed to hold a one-man show with them last May and all the works in it had already been sold to Sonnabend clients, as Halley well knew. Following a judge’s refusal to prevent the Gagosian show taking place, Sonnabend have decided to sue. They have now supplied documents showing that Gagosian paid Halley a $2 million cash bonus (denied by the artist and by Gagosian). Halley claims that Sonnabend are disorganised and failed to make suitable contact with collectors and museums interested in his work. He also states that the agreements made with Sonnabend clients regarding the purchase of works destined for the May 1991 show were written out after he had notified Sonnabend that he was leaving them. For their part, Sonnabend agree that Halley has the right to leave them but claim that he should have honoured his verbal agreement to put together the 1991 May show. In the ongoing law suit, Sonnabend are represented by Daniel Shapiro, husband of the president of MOMA, Agnes Gund.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Gagosian-Halley-Sonnabend: not exactly Queensberry Rules'