Michael Moi, a contractor who worked for the glass artist Dale Chihuly, filed a lawsuit in Seattle on June 2 claiming that the artist, for fifteen years, used assistants who were not paid to help create artworks which were attributed only to him, writes Colin Moynihan of the New York Times.
According to Moi’s suit, “[Chihuly] has long relied on a collection of discreet and trusted individuals to work in the shadows to create the drawings and paintings on paper, glass, Plexiglas, and canvas that bear his name. This small group which has never been acknowledged has two requirements: secrecy and unwavering loyalty.” Chihuly’s lawyers responded that the lawsuit is “nothing more than an ugly and reprehensible display of opportunism and exploitation,” as the artist has been struggling with a compromised mental state due to “bipolar disorder, symptoms of which include depression, hyperactivity and/or mania, paranoia, impaired judgment and irrational behavior.” Moi wants $21 million from Chihuly. If he does not receive the money, Moi has threatened to reveal “embarrassing information” about the artist.
Several years ago, Moi was hired as a handyman by Chihuly to fix roofs on a number of homes owned by the artist. A mutual friend of Moi and Chihuly’s, Billy O’Neill, became an assistant to the artist. Not too long afterward, Moi was contacted by O’Neill to participate in “frequent and impromptu painting sessions,” as Moi’s lawsuit characterizes it. Moi took part in the making of large-scale drawings and used a blowtorch to burn metallic dust and multiple layers of paint onto several sculptures, among other tasks. Moi claims that Chihuly always promised to pay him and that he’d even share the profits on artworks he helped to create when they sold. None of this came to pass. In 2015, O’Neill was fired by the artist’s studio, and Moi’s contract was never renewed. When Chihuly’s studio hired a new group of assistants, Moi realized that “neither Chihuly nor the Chihuly studio was going to compensate him for his years of painting work as promised.”