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Judge Dismisses $100 Million Lawsuit Against NYC Museums Accused of Rigging the Art Market

A $100 million class action lawsuit against five major museums—the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the New Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art—was thrown out by a New York court on Wednesday, December 19. The antitrust suit—filed by American artist Robert Cenedella, also known as the Art Bastard, in February—alleged that the institutions were part of a grand conspiracy to manipulate the art market by keeping prices and the demand for works by a select number of artists high in order to eliminate the competition.

In a thirty-two-page ruling, Judge John Koeltl of the Southern District of New York wrote that Cenedella’s arguments were “highly speculative” and that he found no evidence of a conspiracy. “Other than vague statements that his work is of a quality worthy of display in the defendant museums and has been the subject of shows in the United States and Europe, the plaintiff provides no reason to infer that the defendant museums would in fact purchase and display his art but for the alleged conspiracy.” While the judge rejected the claim, he also left the door open for Cenedella to try again. The outsider artist has until January 15, 2019 to file an amended complaint.

In response to the dismissal of the suit, Cenedella said in a statement: “This lawsuit was never about me. It has always been about exposing the secrecy and insider dealing of the art world, in which curators, dealers, and donors conspire to profit off of the work of a select few artists, regardless of talent or artistic merit. Almost one-third of all solo museum exhibitions in the United States—and at the Met, MoMA, the Whitney, the Guggenheim, and the New Museum—feature artists represented by just five galleries, out of more than 1,400 galleries in New York City.”

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