Collector settles suit with Project gallery over violation of first refusal agreement

The settlement terms remain confidential


The collector Jean-Pierre Lehmann and the dealer Christian Heye announced on 8 November that they have amicably settled the lawsuit brought by Mr Lehmann against Mr Heye and his New York gallery, The Project Worldwide Inc.

In 2001, Mr Lehmann loaned the gallery $75,000—at its request—with no interest and no due date. In exchange, he received the right of first choice to buy art sold by The Project gallery, plus discounts on future purchases.

After a trial in January in state court in Manhattan, the judge found that The Project had given Mr Lehmann “the right of first refusal over everybody”, but had breached the agreement, selling its highly sought-after contemporary works to others instead. Among the works that Mr Lehmann had particularly wanted to buy from The Project were paintings by Julie Mehretu, whose ascent in the contemporary art world was described in the lawsuit as “meteoric”.

On 2 March, after a hearing on the damages Mr Lehmann suffered from losing the chance to enjoy an appreciation in value of works of art he would have bought from the gallery, the judge awarded the collector $1.736 million, but The Project then indicated its intention to appeal.

The November settlement “does not involve any payment of money from the Project to Mr Lehmann,” the parties said in a statement. The lack of a money settlement may suggest that Mr Lehmann has at last been given the chance to purchase a Mehretu painting from The Project. But the settlement terms remain confidential, and just what Mr Lehmann received in the deal may never be known. The parties “are determined to treat the dispute as an unfortunate misunderstanding,” the settlement statement said.