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Max Levai. Photo: Marlborough Gallery.
Max Levai. Photo: Marlborough Gallery.

Marlborough Flip-Flops on Gallery Closure, Countersues Ex-Prez Max Levai

New York’s Marlborough Gallery swapped lawsuits with former president Max Levai in the New York State Supreme Court earlier this week, with the gallery seeking $8 million and accusing Levai of fraud and defamation, and Levai suing for $10 million on allegations that the gallery board conspired against him and his father, Pierre Levai, to push them out of the family business.

Max Levai assumed control of his father’s gallery in 2012, consolidating its several branches into one and announcing a large-scale expansion; he took on the role of president in 2019. During this time, however, the fortunes of the storied gallery, which has been in operation since 1963, tumbled, with the business reportedly losing $18.7 million between 2013 and 2019; of this sum, $14.5 million is alleged to have been lost owing to Levai’s mismanagement.

Marlborough alleges that Pierre Levai, nephew of gallery cofounder Frank Lloyd, appropriated artworks and funds for his own use and that of his friends. The gallery additionally cites the pair’s mismanagement as the reason for its financial woes, noting in the complaint that “many major artists that left the gallery left due to issues that they had with one or the other of Pierre Levai and Max Levai.”

For his part, Max Levai claims that the Marlborough board took the opportunity of its closure amid the Covid-19 pandemic to strip him of his position while his father was ill with the disease and unable to vote, in an attempt to give it back to the family of cofounder Lloyd, who lost control of it in the 1970s amid a scandal involving the fraudulent undervaluing of a number of works by Mark Rothko. The younger Levai additionally alleges that the gallery worked to destroy his reputation among artists and his business contacts so that he would be unable to compete with the gallery upon its reopening.

In June, just days before ousting Max Levai, Marlborough announced that it would be shuttering for good; today, however, it was revealed that the gallery will be reopening on September 26, helmed by Douglas Walla, the founder of Kent Fine Art. A group show featuring such heavyweights as Magdalena Abakanowicz, Anselm Kiefer, and Adolph Gottlieb, will herald the reopening.