Howardena Pindell. Courtesy of Garth Greenan.

Howardena Pindell Lawsuit Against Former Dealer Dredges Up Former Complaints

Art dealer George N’Namdi, whose eponymous Detroit gallery was a haven for black abstract painters in the 1980s, has been accused of cheating the artists he championed. After artist Howardena Pindell filed a lawsuit against N’Namdi and his son Jumaane in federal court in January—accusing them as well as their affiliated companies of neglecting to inform her about sales, withholding profits, and refusing to return artworks—others began to speak out.

The New York Times reports that Richard Mayhew, one of the last living members of the New York–based Spiral collective, wanted to sue N’Namdi’s galleries after they declined to pay him for artworks sold without his knowledge. He never initiated legal action because of financial reasons, but he severed ties with the family ten years ago. Abstract painter James Little, who staged a show at N’Namdi’s New York gallery in 2005, told the New York Times that he parted ways with the dealership because of his “discomfort with the bookkeeping.”

In order to establish a pattern of the alleged manipulation of artists, Pindell’s lawsuit contends that artists Al Loving and Herbert Gentry also “publicly expressed their difficulties” with the N’Namdis—Mara Loving, the widow of the Abstract Expressionist Al Loving, reached a settlement with the gallery for an undisclosed sum in 2008. Little confirmed that these difficulties included the failure to remit monthly stipends and other payments. Recalling previous conversations with Loving and Gentry, Little told the New York Times, “We used to share information about this guy.” An African American gallerist in an industry where they are scarce, N’Namdi offered black artists representation when other dealers wouldn’t. Many of the painters he showed in the 1980s—Pindell, Loving, Ed Clark, Frank Bowling, and Jack Whitten among them—have recently attracted newfound attention from critics and museums.

Pindell, whose work was featured in eight solo exhibitions at N’Namdi’s galleries between 1987 and 2006, approached a lawyer in 2009 in order to secure the return of twenty artworks that were previously loaned to the gallery, including twelve works from her “Autobiography” series, as well as three from Arthur Primas, a Texas-based collector and defendant in the suit who bought the pieces from the N’Namdis at a discounted rate without Pindell’s consent. Pindell is also seeking at least $500,000 in punitive damages.

In response to the allegations, which were first reported by Artnews, Peter D. Raymond, George and Jumaane N’Namdi’s attorney, said: “It is our intention to move to dismiss the claims. Our clients have great respect for Ms. Pindell as an artist and are proud to have been able to help her with her career.”