The artist Cady Noland is at the center of another legal dispute over a work of art she has allegedly disavowed. On 22 June, the Ohio collector Scott Mueller filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court seeking to reverse his 2014 purchase of Noland’s sculpture Log Cabin (1990) for $1.4m. The defendants in the suit are Michael Janssen and his Berlin- and Singapore-based gallery, which sold the work, the New York-based Marisa Newman Projects, which facilitated the sale, and Wilhelm Schurmann, who owned the work, according to the court filings.
Log Cabin had undergone extensive restoration, and shortly after the sale, Mueller’s complaint states, Noland said “she does not approve of the work”. The court papers also say she faxed Mueller on 18 July 2014, stating: “‘This is not an artwork’ and objecting to the fact that the sculpture was ‘repaired by a consevator [sic] BUT THE ARTIST WASN’T CONSULTED’” (emphasis in the original). Artists can disavow a work if it has been damaged or changed under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act.
But did Noland actually disavow Log Cabin? A spokeswoman for Janssen told The Art Newspaper Noland “did not DISAVOW her work… She merely wanted the value to be depreciated”. She said Noland stated in the fax: “The work needs to be depreciated in value because of the ‘repair’ that hadn’t been overseen or agreed to by the artist”. As for the statement “this is not an artwork”, that refers to the fax and not the sculpture, the spokeswoman says.
In 2011, Noland disavowed the aluminum print Cowboys Milking, which Sotheby’s had agreed to sell for the art dealer Marc Jancou. Sotheby’s withdrew it from auction when Noland objected and Jancou sued. A New York State court ruled that Noland and Sotheby’s acted within their rights.
Mueller claims he is entitled to a refund because the sale contract stated Janssen would buy back Log Cabin if, within 12 months, Noland “affirmatively refuses to acknowledge or approve the [work’s] legitimacy”. Janssen refunded the collector $600,000, but Mueller is seeking the remainder of the purchase price. According to the complaint, in May, Janssen wrote to Mueller: “It is a most unfortunate situation for me as you can imagine and I am working continuously to find a solution”.
The Courthouse News Service has further details on the case.