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Heirs of Brazil’s leading artist at war over estate

The Lygia Clark foundation has temporarily stopped authenticating works by the artist

The foundation of one of Brazil’s best known and most valuable artists, Lygia Clark, has stopped authenticating works because of a bitter family feud. “Certification of work is temporarily suspended due to the legal proceedings between my brother and myself to preserve the integrity of the certification process and ultimately my mother’s legacy,” says Alvaro Clark, the president of the World of Lygia Clark. 

Most expensive Brazilian artist

Clark, one of the four signatories of the founding manifesto for the Neo-Concrete movement in 1959, is among Brazil’s most influential artists. A major retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art was the tenth most popular exhibition in the US last year, attracting almost half a million visitors (423,744, according to The Art Newspaper’s annual attendance figures). Clark also holds the record for the most expensive Brazilian artist at auction. Her Contra Relevo (Objeto N. 7) (1959)—which came with a certificate of authenticity from the foundation—sold at Phillips in 2013 for $2.23m.

Her legacy is managed by her surviving children, Eduardo and Alvaro, and by her grandchildren. The foundation, the World of Lygia Clark, is responsible for documenting and authorising authenticity of her work and maintaining a database of her output. The task is not an easy one: Clark often did not sign her work; she did not manufacture all of it; and she did not fulfil the full-edition sizes of some works. The organisation makes its money by charging fees for copyright and for the rental of replicas of Clark’s experimental works; the authentication process has always been free of charge.

Now the brothers are at war. According to an article in the Brazilian publication, Piauí 105, Eduardo filed a court order late last year to seize works of art that he claimed Alvaro had unfairly taken personal possession of. In December, bailiffs visited the homes of Alvaro, of Alvaro’s ex-wife Sandra Regino Brito, and of their daughter Alessandra Clark. They left empty-handed because the works were packed in sealed boxes and might have been damaged in the process of opening them up. Since then, the courts have been changing their minds about who has the rights to the work, according to the article.

While the row rumbles on, the foundation has stopped authenticating. “This is potentially a very meaningful shift,” says Allan Schwartzman, the co-founder of the advisory Art Agency, Partners.  “In the absence of the estate as authentication board, I would think that would open the door to more fakes entering the market,” he says.

Excessive control

The foundation’s authentication process has been rigorous—and largely successful—in tackling the problem of forged Lygia Clark works on the market. The certification process “has sometimes been a source of frustration for collectors because they might not have all the paperwork needed, but that kind of precision is necessary because, unfortunately, the association has seen a number of fakes”, says Alison Jacques, the founder of the London-based gallery that represents the artist’s estate.

However, some have interpreted the foundation’s meticulousness as excessive control. It is famous for refusing image permissions for works that it has not certified and for taking legal action under Brazil’s stringent moral rights legislation against the use of Clark’s name in exhibitions, or projects including videos in which she appears. For example, the Fundación Cisneros—one of the most important foundations dedicated to Latin American art—published dozens of books in which the Clark plates were left blank because the artist’s heirs refused to authorise reproductions of the-then uncertified works. “Their terms for authentication used to be to send work to Rio and sign an authorisation that they could destroy it if they deemed it inauthentic, which was unacceptable,” says Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, the director of the Fundación Cisneros. “The whole process ground to a halt, and people simply wouldn’t send objects to be certified.” Ultimately, the heirs agreed to certify the works in the Cisneros collection through a lengthy documentation process.

Counterintuitively, the market might react well to the temporary cessation of the formal certification process by determining authenticity itself, Schwartzman says: “There are many owners of Clark works who have not been interested in seeking the authentication of the estate, and perhaps the absence of a family, which might at times be perceived as having its own goals, might open the door for more Clarks to appear in exhibitions, publications and the marketplace that can be validated through other tried and true tests of authentication and proven provenance.”

“Business as normal”

Jacques points out that most collectors who own works by Clark have had plenty of time to seek their certificates; the organisation has been running since 2001. She says there will be little impact on the market or on museum exhibitions. “We only deal in authenticated works anyway,” she says. Aside from authentication, the World of Lygia Clark organisation “is operating business as normal”, she says. “It is a non-profit dealing with copyright and museum loans and is very much up and running.”

Meanwhile, plans for a catalogue raisonné are back on track, Alvaro says. “The number of authenticated works will be public in the next 18 months when the catalogue, which has been in progress for the past five years, is published.”