A hotly contested and widely followed lawsuit involving the Gagosian Gallery, billionaire investor Leon Black and a $100 million Picasso sculpture was recently resolved, and the reports indicate the settlement involved Black keeping the sculpture.
In January of 2016, the Gagosian Gallery sued to quite title over the 1931 Picasso work, Bust of a Woman. The gallery claimed that it had exhibited the work for the previous owner, Picasso’s granddaughter, Diana Widmaier Picasso, for the purpose of finding a buyer. Eventually, the gallery reached a deal with Diana to purchase the work for more than $100 million for resale to one of its clients (later revealed to be Leon Black). However, while the work was on loan at MoMA, the gallery learned that Pelham claimed it had purchased the work for approximately $42 million, so the gallery sued for a declaration that it was the rightful owner.
Pelham counter claimed, alleging that it had previously reached a deal to buy the work from Picasso’s grandson Olivier Widmaier Picasso and his mother, Maya Widmaier Picasso. Pelham alleged the work was purchased on behalf of the Qatar royal family for the Qatar Museums Authority. However, when Diana learned of the sale, she convinced Maya to repudiate the deal with Pelham so that she could try to strike a better deal with her “ally,” Larry Gagosian. It was alleged that the gallery’s claims that it was unaware of the deal with Pelham were false, as had the gallery done any due diligence, it would have known of the deal. Instead, it was claimed that the gallery struck a secret side deal to buy the work and conspired with the Picassos in claiming that Maya had a temporary mental incapacity that made the Pelham deal invalid.
Unfortunately for the art law community, these interesting claims will not be developed further as it appears as if the Picasso’s paid Pelham to make this matter go away, with Black keeping the painting. But no doubt a new art controversy will soon replace this one. Please write to Mike Bono for more information.