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Collector Sues Gagosian Gallery, Jeff Koons for Failing to Deliver Sculptures

Steven Tananbaum, a prominent art collector and trustee of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, is suing Gagosian Gallery, Inc. and Jeff Koons, LLC for allegedly failing to deliver three of Koons’s sculptures after he had paid more than $13 million for them, reports Artnews. A dramatic fifty-three-page complaint filed by New York litigator Aaron Richard Golub details Tananbaum’s payments for the unrealized sculptures, which include Balloon Venus Hohlen Fels (Magenta), 2013–15. The complaint accuses both powerhouse art entities of concocting a scheme to swindle collectors out of millions.

An agreement dated September 11, 2014, stated that Balloon Venus, which measures 103 by 65 inches and features mirror-polished stainless steel, would be completed by December 25. So far, Tananbaum has allegedly made a series of payments, totaling $6.4 million, for the sculpture.

However, when an employee of the art advising company Heller Group reached out to Gagosian Gallery on Tananbaum’s behalf, the gallery said the completion date had been postponed to September 2016. The complaint says that the gallery then pushed the date back to June 2018, before moving it, yet again, to August 2019. Gagosian is citing a “high volume of data” that extended the “scanning and engineering phase” for the work as the reason for the delay in fabrication. Tananbaum is now refusing to accept the August 2019 completion date.

In addition to making payments for that sculpture, the collector also allegedly made a deposit and payments totaling $6.65 million for Eros in December 2016 and Diana in 2017. The complaint claims that the gallery told Tananbaum he could view the first rendering of Diana before paying the full price for it, but that a viewing never took place. Tananbaum was also allegedly denied a refund of his deposit for Diana from Larry Gagosian in March. According to the complaint, requests by the plaintiff to see the works in progress or verification that they were being made went unfulfilled. It also states that the gallery violated New York’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Law by failing to provide the name of the foundry manufacturing the commission.

The lawsuit alleges that the gallery and the artist convince collectors to make payments in installments between $1 million to $2 million while continually delaying completion by six months to a year.

An excerpt of the document reads: “Behind the ostensible façade of Jeff Koons’s art world triumphs and record-breaking auction prices, lurks a well-oiled machine, more specifically an established, archaic System as old as the hills applied to the art world to exploit art collectors’ desire to own Jeff Koons sculptures. The archaic system, once all of the obfuscations are stripped away, exposes a garden-variety, interest-free, fraudulent financial routine that harkens the name Ponzi. New money is used to pay old obligations, not to mention that the archaic System is one that oversold the artist’s capacity. Ponzi meets The Producers.”

Previously, Gagosian was sued in 2012 by billionaire Ron Perelman for allegedly tricking him into buying Koons’s Popeye, though the lawsuit was later dismissed. In 2016, the gallery was also involved in a legal fray with Qatar’s royal family over Pablo Picasso’s Bust of a Woman, 1931, a matter that was later settled. The latest lawsuit, Golub told Artnews, is “a simple case of ‘you didn’t get what you paid for.’” He added that Gagosian and Koons “asked for this lawsuit on a silver platter.”