New tussle: Minor sues another auction house over artwork
Just two months after filing a class action lawsuit against New York-based auction house Sotheby's, Charlottesville native and Internet magnate Halsey Minor has now sued another major auction house over additional works of art. In a suit filed in a Northern California federal court, Minor seeks unspecified damages against Christie's for, among other things, holding on to paintings he handed them to sell for longer than he wished, resulting in their depreciation.
In his complaint, dated December 8, Minor alleges that he sent seven works by photographer and painter Richard Prince from his office in San Francisco to Christie's in New York on May 9, with the intent of having them sent to London to be exhibited for "a single potential buyer." Should that buyer have passed on the paintings, Minor alleges the works–- which he valued at $25 million at the time of sending–- were to be sent back to him by May 22.
Minor alleges that not only did Christie's not sell the paintings, they exhibited them to more than the "one potential buyer," and that he didn't get the artwork back until early November, long after the global economy had taken a nosedive, resulting in the artwork's depreciation.
Christie's spokesperson Toby Usnik declined says that the company is confident they will win out in the end.
"We believe this lawsuit is without merit," says Usnik, "and we intend to sue Mr. Minor for the $10 million he already owes Christie's."
The interesting side note to this story for followers of soccer or the petroleum business is that the "one potential buyer" was none other than Roman Abramovich, the Russian energy titan and owner of Chelsea F.C., one of the world's most popular professional soccer teams. As of March 2008, Forbes estimated his net worth at $23.5 billion, making him the 15th richest person in the world.
Meanwhile, Minor's suit filed against the Christie's competitor just a few dozen blocks down Manhattan's grid has yet to have its day in court. Minor's class action against Sotheby's, filed October 1, is a countersuit to Sotheby's' September 2 claim that he had failled to pay $16.8 million for three paintings he won at auction, including one by Andy Warhol and Edward Hicks' "Peaceable Kingdom with the Leopard of Serenity."
The Hicks painting, Minor alleges, was offered by its previous owner as a means of paying off a debt to the auction house, a fact that Minor claims should have been disclosed to him before he offered the high bid at a May auction.
"What they did is so egregious," Minor told the Hook in November, "I'm not going to pay a nickel to them."
In its original suit, Sotheby's claimed that Minor refused to pay "without any legal or other justification." In response to Minor's class action, the auction house claims that the countersuit was improperly filed.
Minor rose to fortune and fame as the co-founder of CNET, the tech industry news website. Minor is also the money behind the Landmark Hotel, the nine-story luxury hotel going up on the Downtown Mall, though Minor is currently embroiled in disputes with his lender that may prevent the project from being completed on schedule. Earlier this month he fired the project's original developer Lee Danielson.
Separately, a pair of innovative publications Minor backed, JPG and Everywhere, once lauded as the future of publishing, folded January 2 due to money woes.
Neither Minor's attorney nor a Christie's representative had immediately returned the Hook's calls for comment.
–updated January 8, 2009 at 5:03pm