Authentication committee refused to give an opinion on my Basquiat, says collector

Complaint says work could lose $3m in value as a result


Swedish entrepreneur and art collector Gerard De Geer has filed a complaint against the authentication committee for the estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The complaint, filed in New York in April, alleges that the committee and its members breached its contract in 2005 by refusing to offer an opinion on the authenticity of Basquiat’s Fuego Flores, 1983 (which Mr De Geer bought in 1987), having accepted the plaintiff’s application fee. Mr De Geer’s lawyer, Stephen Younger of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, said that after this time, “our client made [additional] attempts to have the committee review the painting and its provenance by requesting an opinion. The committee refused to provide one.” The complaint also alleges that it had viewed the work in 2005.

The court papers say that, as no auction house will sell the painting as a Basquiat without the committee’s authenticity, its value is “less than $5,000” rather than “at least $3m” that the papers say it could command as an authentic Basquiat.

“Our client is quite perturbed by the inability to authenticate this painting and has authorised us to pursue this matter vigorously,” Mr Younger told The Art Newspaper.

The members of the Basquiat authentication committee include Gerard Jean-Baptiste Basquiat, the father of the artist, the collector Larry Warsh and dealers Jeffrey Deitch and John Cheim. Mr Younger says that there may be additional members of the committee that have yet to be identified.

As well as calling for the committee either to reach a decision or pay damages of up to $5m under three separate causes, the complaint also includes a course of action should the committee determine that the work is not authentic. Also named as defendants are the dealer who sold Mr De Geer the painting, Carl Flach, and the dealer that had previously sold it to Mr Flach, Stellan Holm.

It is argued that, should the work not be authenticated, “De Geer was defrauded and deceived by Flach and Holm’s misrepresentations and has suffered damages as a result of this fraud.” Compensatory and punitive damages of at least $10m are sought.

According to Mr Younger, all the defendants have been served the complaint so the plaintiff is now awaiting their response. Discovery (a formal procedure when the parties to a lawsuit exchange information) and then a trial would follow thereafter, he said. The lawyer for the defendant, James Cinque of Cinque & Cinque, did not return our requests for comment.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 192 June 2008