Keith Haring, untitled, 1982.

Sotheby’s Sues Art Dealer Over $6.5 Million Keith Haring Bid

Sotheby’s has sued the New York art dealer Anatole Shagalov after he allegedly failed to pay the record-breaking $6.5 million sum he bid on an untitled Keith Haring painting from 1982, reports Bloomberg. The auction house is suing the dealer for $2.13 million, which is the loss Sotheby’s suffered after it resold the painting, which features angels, dogs, and the artist's iconic “radiant child.” In December 2016, the painting was sold by the Dominique Lévy Gallery for $3.3 million at Art Basel Miami Beach. It was auctioned the following May at Sotheby’s, where it was estimated at $4 million to $6 million.

Shagalov claims that the auction house had agreed to let him pay for the work in installments and then asked for all of the money at once. The collector also says that Sotheby’s made no effort to attain a higher price for the work, which later went for $4.4 million. Sotheby’s contends that there was never an agreement about an installment plan, and that Shagalov simply abandoned his winning bid without making a single payment. Shagalov’s attorney, Matthew Hoffman, said that the quarrel over the installment plan was only a minor point in the dealer’s defense, and that there are stronger arguments that he is keeping secret for now because they concern documents filed under seal and so cannot be described.

Attempts by Shagalov to find a new buyer for the work included reaching out to Marco Mercanti, the founder of Oblyon, a Madrid-based art firm. Court papers show that Mercanti agreed to pay $5 million for the painting through an agreement with JPMorgan Chase & Co. While Shagalov says this offer proves the auction house’s failure to resell the work for the best price it could, Sotheby’s says it got “a good price for it, well within its estimates.” According to a sworn affidavit from Melissa Barbagallo, Mercanti’s North American head of sales, Shagalov did not tell her that he had been sued by Sotheby’s when he pitched her the artwork and asked for a backdated letter of interest. Shagalov’s defense maintains that this is irrelevant.