Art market

Martin Lawrence Galleries files suit to claim stolen Warhol

Jason Beltrez claims it was a flea market find while Christie's is stuck in the middle


Martin Lawrence Galleries filed a lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in February against Jason Beltrez and Christie’s auction house for the recovery of an Andy Warhol painting that was stolen from its walls in 1998. The defendant, Mr Beltrez, attempted to consign the painting from Warhol’s Dollar Sign 1981 series to Christie’s in September 2007. A routine search with the Art Loss Register by a Christie’s employee determined that the piece had been reported stolen from the Manhattan gallery nearly a decade before.

Although the Warhol has been confirmed as one of two works stolen from the SoHo gallery on 14 February 1998, Mr Beltrez refuses to return the work, which is valued at $300,000. Mr Beltrez claims that he purchased the painting for $180 at an open-air market in New Jersey, and he plans to defend his ownership in court. Our telephone calls to his lawyer, Vincent Fong of the Law Offices of Vincent S. Fong in New York, have not been returned.

According to court papers, Christie’s is also named as a defendant, but “solely as a stakeholder”, and the painting will remain in its custody until the lawsuit is resolved.

According to Chris Marinello, director and general counsel of the Art Loss Register: “Beltrez doesn’t have a right to keep the work and his claim that the law of the street applies, where finders are keepers is absurd.” He went on to say that the law clearly favours the gallery, since it is impossible to secure good title on stolen art. Mr Marinello also told The Art Newspaper: “We offered Beltrez a finder’s fee as part of the negotiation for recovery but he rejected it in favour of litigation.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Gallery files suit to claim stolen Warhol'