On the heels of an announcement by famed auction house, Christie's, that it is listing roughly 50 works by neo-expressionist Jean-Michel Basquiat this month, the last artist's two sisters (who administer his estate) have filed suit. According to Jeanine Basquiat Heriveaux and Lisane Basquiat's $1 million lawsuit, which was filed in a Manhattan Federal Court on Tuesday, Christie's is selling what may be phony works by their late brother, as the house has failed to verify the authenticity of all but seven of the fifty or so paintings in its catalog. According to the complaint, which alleges claims of false endorsement, false advertising, and unfair competition, among others, Christie’s “knows or has reason to believe that many of the catalog items are of questionable authenticity.” The artist, himself, died of a drug overdose in 1988 at age 27, but not before he graced the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a feature entitled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist".
The paintings at issue have come from Basquiat’s former lover Alexis Adler, and the complaint states that of the seven works that the estate’s authentication committee was presented with, members believe the $300,000 radiator with the word “Milk” painted across the middle was not done by Basquiat." The suit further alleges: The remainder of the catalog items were not only not authenticated by the authentication committee … but also were never submitted to them for review."
While Adler has defended the pieces to the New York Post, saying, “I’m not sure where this is coming from. I have no doubt that everything will progress because the work is authentic. Nobody has ever questioned whether it was or not in all these years because they knew we lived together," the artist's estate is not convinced. And interestingly, the suit doesn't place much blame on Adler, but instead, Christie's is coming under fire, which could have a severely detrimental effect on the esteemed house going further. Not only does the suit attack Christie's for failing to take the necessary steps to authorize the works, the suit points the finger at Christie's for using language in its catalog that claims the works are copyrighted by Basquiat’s estate. According to the complaint, that inclusion has the potential to “deceive and confuse” potential buyers into believing the sale is approved by the estate.
Basquait's sisters are asking for upwards of $1 million in damages and an injunction forbidding the use of Basquiat’s name without the estate’s permission. However, as of right now, the online Christie’s auction for the Basquiat works is live and will continue through March 17. A live auction will be held on Thursday. More to come ...