Expect delays and be patient. That’s the message mega-dealer Larry Gagosian has for billionaire collector and MoMA trustee Steven Tananbaum, who claims in a lawsuit that he’s been waiting years to receive three large-scale Jeff Koons sculptures for which he paid millions. The works have yet to arrive, according to the claim.
Last Friday, Gagosian responded to an amended suit filed by the disgruntled collector following an earlier complaint made this past spring. For the second time, Gagosian filed a motion to dismiss in the New York State Supreme Court, asserting that Tananbaum is a “highly sophisticated art collector” who is aware of Koons’s reputation as “a perfectionist who often takes years” to make his sculptures.
Steve Tananbaum. Image courtesy of LinkedIn.
Gagosian even flipped Tananbaum’s script against the collector, citing language from the original lawsuit, which stated that Koons “wears the crown in the Contemporary Art world.” It also said, somewhat awkwardly, that “he is the number one.”
The Gagosian response further points out that Tananbaum was being advised by a top art advisor Sandy Heller and, that, in addition to understanding that Koons is a perfectionist, the collector was also aware that completion dates for sculptures are only approximate. “Those estimated dates are often extended by multiple years,” according to the filing.
US artist Jeff Koons poses for photographs during a meeting at the French Cultural Ministry in Paris on January 30, 2018. Photo by Stephane de Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images.
The legal rift between Gagosian and Tananbaum grew out of a purchase the collector originally made in September 2013. Tananbaum agreed to buy from the dealer Koons’s Magenta Balloon Venus—an oversized, highly polished riff on Venus of Willendorf, a female figurine that was found in 1908 by an archaeologist in Austria.
In his response, Gagosian maintains that Tananbaum was informed of multiple extensions in Koons’s estimated completion date for the sculpture. Further, “after a more than two-year extension in the estimated completion date… Mr. Tananbaum agreed to purchase two more works with ‘estimated’ completion dates,” the motion claims.
Gagosian argues that Tananbaum’s breach of contract claims are baseless because completion dates are only approximate and “time therefore is not of the essence.” Gagosian further maintains that Tananbaum’s amended complaint establishes that he “accepted that the completion dates could be extended and that Mr. Koons could take years before commencing physical fabrication.”
Gagosian’s attorney Mattew Dontzin of Dontzin, Nagy & Fleissig, declined to comment for this story.
Tananbaum has switched attorneys since his initial filing when he was represented by Aaron Richard Golub. The April suit turned heads because of the colorful language used in one of the allegations: “When the curtain is pulled back, ‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’ cannot help but spring to mind from defendants’ naked, unadorned avarice and conspiratorial actions in connection with the sale of factory-manufactured industrial products called Jeff Koons sculptures.”
For the amended filing, Tananbaum turned to a new attorney, Shannon Selden of Debevoise & Plimpton. In a phone interview with artnet News, Selden said the dealer wasn’t treating buyers fairly. “Gagosian’s tactics of selling multiple works for millions of dollars and then picking and choosing whether or not to deliver them on time, are unfair to buyers,” she wrote. “For Mr. Tananbaum this lawsuit is a matter of principle.”
Indeed, Tananbaum is not the only buyer to have lost patience with Gagosian over the delivery of a Koons work. Shortly after the collector’s first lawsuit, a similar claim was put forth by Hollywood producer Joel Silver, who produced the films The Matrix and Lethal Weapon. He alleged that Gagosian failed to deliver Koons’s Balloon Venus Hohlen Fels, which Silver agreed to buy for $8 million in 2014. Silver claimed that when he attempted to cancel the deal due to the lateness, the gallery told him that he would then have to forfeit the $3.2 million he had already paid, according to court documents.
Munich’s Haus der Kunst has severed ties with an embattled human resources contractor with ties to Scientology after a German newspaper obtained a leaked letter from staffers complaining about poor treatment and work conditions. The man’s links to Scientology are said to have directly influenced his work.
Scientology is not recognized by the German state as a religion. In general, it is viewed by the government and media alike as an organization that pursues anti-democratic political and economic goals, and is treated with extreme suspicion. The organization is routinely monitored by state intelligence agencies.
Rumors over Scientology’s influence over the institution had been circulating for several years, with staffers filing formal complaints of mistreatment by the contractor in question to the Haus der Kunst board on two separate occasions, in November 2015 and July 2016. The complaints referenced draconian disciplinary practices and extreme working hours imposed by the human resources director, leading to tensions within the staff.
Okwui Enwezor, director of the Haus der Kunst, on March 6, 2015 in Munich, Germany. Courtesy of Joerg Koch/Getty Images.
In a letter addressed to a board member in February 2016, one employee wrote, “I wouldn’t be writing here if the man called Mr. Scientology would only operate privately. The ideology flows directly into his work.” The author went on to allege that the contractor invited three board members to the local Scientology center.
Bavarian parliamentary representative Isabell Zacharias claimed to have “evidence that there might even be significantly more Scientologists in the Haus der Kunst.” She has called for a far-reaching review of recent goings-on within the institution, including during the tenures of Enwezor’s predecessors Chris Dercon and Christoph Vitali.
German news reports portray an institution marred by division between Scientologists recruited by the museum’s former freelance human resources administrator and the rest of the staff.
Meanwhile, the controversy has taken its toll on Enwezor’s relationship to the employee council, which repeatedly alerted the director to the working conditions imposed by the former employee. Addressing staff in a recent meeting, Enwezor told employees, “The workforce is split into several camps and I see it as my task to repair the interrelationships again.”
According to Arnd Diringer, a lawyer cited by DW who has written extensively on Scientology, “If he [the contractor] deliberately hired other Scientologists, then he may of course have violated his responsibilities as a personnel manager… He is of course obliged to hire people impartially.”
On the other hand, Diringer pointed out that if his belief system influenced his management style, “it’ll be interesting to see if using those techniques count as a reason for dismissal.”
“When someone asks me why they should build a contemporary art collection I say that they would go home more gladly if they had great pieces on their walls.”
Contemporary art consultant and curator, Tiziana Castelluzzo, shows us around her stunning apartment in Milan. With a Master’s degree in contemporary art, a former career in finance and over ten years of art consulting under her belt, she has a wealth of experience and shares her expert wisdom on investing in art, her favorite spots in Milan and her predictions for the next big names in the art scene.
FAM: Hi Tiziana, thank you for meeting with me today in your beautiful home in Milan. The city has firmly established itself among Italy’s great cities for contemporary art, hasn’t it? Tiziana Castelluzzo: In the last five years, Milan has really transformed itself. When I moved back from London I missed the vibe and the energy of the big city. Now I have to say that Milan has grown so much in terms of cultural offering that I know I am in the right place.
Which local galleries and museums do you feel inspired by? Fondazione Prada, Pirelli HangarBicocca and Fondazione Trussardi are the three institutions that I find the most interesting. Also contemporary art galleries like Massimo de Carlo, Lia Rumma and, among the youngest, Patricia Armocida are my favorites in the city, but I also have many relationships with international galleries with whom I work daily. In the digital age, it’s very easy to work remotely.
What made you want to work in the art world? I graduated in business and finance but I had always been interested in art. I was working in finance when I decided to move to London and do a Master’s degree in contemporary art. At that time I was not sure if at the end of it, I would go back to finance or pursue a career in the art field but when I finished my degree I was so into contemporary art that I wanted to remain there!
How did you become an art advisor? After an experience at Sotheby’s in the contemporary art department and at Phillips de Pury in the photography department, I had the great opportunity to become the managing director of an art consultancy within a high-end lifestyle group. This gave me the chance to combine my business expertise with my art background, to meet and work with very talented and well-known members of the contemporary art scene. It was a very exciting period!
How did it feel to change careers? Of course my choice was very risky as I already had a good career in finance and it was not easy, but I am very proud and happy of my path and most importantly, now I do what I really love. Working in art for me is a passion, not just a job.
What are the joys of being a curator? I love to discover young talented artists and work with them forming a close relationship by staying with them. I confront myself with their work and their personality. I think a curator has the role of helping artists to express themselves in the most effective way and to make their vision possible by guiding them. Great artists can convey so much through their work.
Which of the exhibitions you have curated have been the most memorable for you? When I attended the first edition of the Hong Kong art fair as an art advisor I discovered Korean artist Seahyun Lee. I fell in love with his work and found a way to bring him to Italy and curate his first solo show here, which was a big success. Another exhibition that comes to mind is that of Jukhee Kwon. I met her in London when she was studying at Camberwell College. Manually shredding pages of abandoned and unused books with great precision and patience, she creates waterfall-like hanging sculptures. I had already exhibited her work in some group shows but I had never done a solo show. I was very happy with that exhibition because it attracted the interest of people that are not particularly into contemporary art.
As a collector, what grabs your attention? The work has to intrigue me, to make me think and push me to research and to discover more. But I have problems with art works that solely need research or an explanation to catch my attention. The contemporary artists that I appreciate the most are those who are able to address important issues with powerful works, and also those who express their intimate world in a way that is so universal that it can resonate with everyone’s emotions.
You have a work by Os Gemeos and eL Seed in your collection—what are your views on Street Art? I do not like the term “Street” Art—journalists use it a lot but it’s really sensationalist and reductive for artists like them. Of course they began in the underground scene but as their work evolved they started to bring their imaginary worlds into contemporary art galleries and museums. They still make public pieces but the latter represents the minimum part of what they do.
What made you want to buy this work by Os Gemeos? The identical twin brothers Os Gemeos, who were recently invited to produce a mural for Pirelli HangarBicocca in Milan, create surreal worlds with distinctive characters from their Brazilian culture—portraits of musicians, fishermen, women, and children who populate simple and sensual scenes of Brazilian reality that are melded with imaginary figures conceived in their oneiric universe. My Os Gemeos work was part of an installation, which was built inside Patricia Armocida gallery.
And eL Seed? eL Seed works with themes that seem contradictory. His dynamic and colorful oeuvre is eye-catching not only for the words themselves and their meaning, but also for their movement that lures viewers. The universal messages of peace, tolerance, coexistence, and dialogue between people and cultures are the foundations of eL Seed’s poetics. His aim is to challenge prejudices and clichés.
What is your favorite piece in your collection and why? I don’t have a favorite. I am really attached to every single piece in my collection. I come home, I look at the art on the walls and I feel at peace. When someone asks me why they should build a contemporary art collection I say that they would go home more gladly if they had great pieces on their walls. Contemporary art speaks of our time, of our reality and addresses new ways of thinking, which opens our mind. It’s also a good way to invest money.
What are your thoughts about buying art for investment? I think that art can be a very good way to invest money, whilst also owning something enjoyable. But as with all investments it needs expertise. In order to make a good investment you need to have a deep understanding of the art market’s dynamics to know what and where to buy, and at what price.
What advice would you give to someone buying emerging art? In the art world, like in all others, things don’t happen by chance. So if you are interested in buying a work which, regardless of how much you pay for it, stands for quality and has the potential to gain in value, then you should carefully read the artist’s CV—look at their education, the exhibitions they have done and the galleries that represent their work. I would suggest buying only from galleries that have a great reputation and works that are unique and recognizable.
Who in terms of emerging artists do you think is currently on the road to success? Who are your favorites? Dale Lewis, Danny Fox, Felix Treadwell, Helena Parada Kim, Agostino Iacurci, eL Seed, Richie Culver, and many others.
And lastly, where do you buy? Mostly from art galleries. I do buy at auction, but mostly for my clients. For me, the most interesting thing is going to an exhibition, falling in love with an artist and learning more about their work. Then you have something that tells a story.