7 most talked about art world lawsuits in 2022

What would the art world be without a few shocking scandals every now and again?

While rare masterpieces being sold for small fortunes, famous painters opening galleries, and news of up-and-coming artists tend to draw attention in the art world; a lawsuit can sometimes lead to a complete restructuring of how art is bought, sold and even made. 

From elusive contemporary art dealer Indio Philbrick sentenced to seven years in prison to a small Miami Gallery suing Kanye West for $145,000, 2022 has seen a slew of legal dramas unfold in the courts. 

So let’s take a look at some lawsuits that made the papers.

Inigo Philbrick steals artists’ identities 

Just a few years after opening his own gallery in 2013, art dealer Inigo Philbrick reported an impressive $130 million in revenue. But unfortunately for Philbrick, it’s a lot less glamorous than it sounds. 

In 2019, Philbrick was accused of using fake records to conduct transactions and selling works without telling the rightful owners. Towards the end of 2019, he took out a $14 million loan and fled the US for the Pacific Island of Vanuatu. In June 2020, he was arrested in Vanuatu and pled guilty to wire fraud and identity theft the following year. When the judge asked for a reason behind the fraud, he replied, “for the money, your honour.”

In May 2022, Philbrick was sentenced to seven years in prison, ordered to forfeit $86 million, compensate those he defrauded and give up interest on two works – one by Wade Guyton and another by Christopher Wool. 

Ryder Ripps accuses Bored Ape Yacht Club of racism 

As the NFT craze soared at the beginning of 2022, American conceptual artist Ryder Ripps used imagery from NFT collection Bored Ape Yacht Club and its parent company Yuga Labs.

In January last year, Ripps launched gordongoner.com, stating how the images and messaging used in BAYC are “racist and contain(s) Nazi dog whistles.” In May, Ripps released RR/BAYC, an NFT project ripping off the imagery and names used from BAYC as a kind of conceptual art protest.

Yuga labs sued Ripps for trademark infringement, among other offences. The case may head to trial this year.

Ken Griffin Sues IRS

Billionaire art collector and founder of the hedge fund Citadel, Ken Griffin, sued the Internal Revenue Service in December after ProPublica published his income tax records, claiming they had violated his rights to privacy.

His records were used in a story detailing the average annual income and average income tax for 400 of the richest Americans between 2013 and 2018. A spokesperson for Griffin told ProPublica the tax rates detailed were “significantly understate” what the billionaire pays due to charitable contributions being deducted and doesn’t reflect state taxes. 

Pace gallery sues Jean-Pierre Seurat

In November 2021, French artist Jean-Pierre Seurat sold the gallery an 1882 crayon drawing titled Le Suiveur (The Follower), depicting a man and woman strolling on a French boulevard, for $2 million. Seurat said the drawing was by his grandfather George Seurat. It turns out, George had no grandchildren! 

In May 2022, the gallery filed suit against Seurat after receiving a PDF from fine art dealer Constance H. Schwartz containing fake images of Le Suiveur and documents that appeared to prove its authenticity. The lawsuit alleges Seurat provided Pace with “false, misleading, and irrelevant” documents to attest to the drawing’s authenticity.

Kanye West is sued by Miami gallery 

Kanya West, who now goes by “Ye”, is being sued by Surface Area, a gallery space and showroom in Miami. The gallery claims that West owes them $145,000 for the “reservation, customisation, and use of its rental space as a recording studio.”

The gallery alleges that Ye and his team agreed to rent out the space for said amount. Ye’s managers approved costs, however, moved out of the space, and according to court documents, “the Defendant has failed to pay any amounts whatsoever to the Plaintiff.” 

Peter Max trapped in a guardianship

It’s not just Britney Spears who’s trapped in a guardianship, where all decisions are controlled by others. Pop Art maestro Peter Max is embattled with lawsuits in which all of the closest people to him allege they can best take care of him and his legacy. As a victim of Alzheimer’s-related dementia, he remains unheard from. 

His daughter Libra Max has filed suit against his guardian, the attorney Barbara Lissner, for inflicting her father with “crippling emotional trauma” due to “isolation” and “medical neglect.” Libra alleges that the attorney is a “financial predator” who’s charged a total of $2 million for her services and refusing to let friends and family care for Max. Libra Max is suing to end the guardianship stating that he “has a loving daughter, me, and he has been begging for me to come and take care of him.”

Andy Warhol and Prince fiascos

In October 2022, lawyers for the Andy Warhol Foundation (AWF) and photographer Lynn Goldsmith argued their cases to the Supreme Court, which could fundamentally change how contemporary art is made. 

In 1981, Goldsmith was commissioned to take photos of Prince. The magazine didn’t use the photos, but a few years later, in 1984, Vanity Fair paid Goldsmith a $400 licensing fee to use one of the photos for the cover of their November issue, which was to be designed by Andy Warhol. Based on Goldsmith’s photo, Warhol produced a whole series of images, which wasn’t made public until Prince’s death in 2016.

Warhol copyrighted the Prince series, which has made hundreds of millions in reproduction sales. Goldsmith claims she should have been paid a licensing fee for the Prince series. AWF claims the series falls under “fair use”, which the U.S. Copyright Office says, “promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances.” The court will decide whether Warhol has “transformed” the photo enough from Goldsmith’s original to be considered to have a new meaning. AWF supporters say a decision in Goldsmith’s favour could be catastrophic, potentially putting an end to the practice of art appropriation. 

Who knew 2022 would be so scandalous?! 

Main image: Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images