The Hollywood producer Joel Silver has dropped his lawsuit against Gagosian Gallery. The art collector and producer was suing over delays in the delivery of an $8 million balloon sculpture by Jeff Koons he purchased in 2014. But he reached an agreement with Gagosian after the gallery’s lawyers uncovered that billionaire art collector Ronald Perelman, who has a checkered litigious past of his own with the mega gallery, had been secretly footing Silver’s legal bills. Under the terms of Silver’s settlement with the gallery, he will move ahead with the disputed purchase of the work.
On May 21, Gagosian’s lawyers wrote Judge Peter Sherwood requesting an order that would compel Silver to produce documents detailing Perelman’s involvement in the case, reported the Blast. The letter expressed concern that Silver had shared confidential information about the gallery with Perelman and his company, MacAndrews & Forbes Group, violating the case’s confidentiality order.
“Silver recently was forced to reveal that MAFG is paying his legal fees in this litigation, even though MAFG is a non-party and not in the business of litigation finance,” the letter claimed, insisting that “Silver has taken extreme measures to hide MAFG’s involvement in this litigation, including by unilaterally withholding non-privileged, responsive documents.”
Perelman sued Gagosian in 2012 over transactions related to nearly a dozen works of art valued at $45 million. Among them was the delayed delivery of Koons’s Popeye, purchased by the collector for $4 million. The case was dismissed in December 2014, but not before Perelman publicly decried the “ugly” art business.
Silver’s counsel confirmed Perelman’s involvement in the current litigation after “the gallery fortuitously discovered it from a third party,” Gagosian’s lawyers alleged in their letter. They claimed that any correspondence about the Koons between Silver and Perelman should have been, but was not, produced during discovery, and that Perelman, a onetime friend of gallery owner Larry Gagosian, had “a longstanding grudge against the gallery.”
In a letter to the judge, Silver’s lawyers defended their decision to withhold correspondence with Perelman from discovery: “As the Court implied… the manner in which Mr. Silver is paying his legal fees is irrelevant.” (Perelman also isn’t the first billionaire to secretly back a lawsuit in what could be perceived as a bid for revenge: Venture capitalist Peter Thiel famously bankrolled Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker, which ultimately bankrupted the site.)
In a statement to artnet News, a spokesman for Perelman said his client “stepped up to help a friend as he has many times in the past and was particularly willing to do so when his assistance helps root out manipulation and increase transparency in art market.”
Silver, producer of The Matrix and Lethal Weapon, agreed to buy Koons’s Balloon Venus Hohlen Fels in 2014, paying on an installment plan. After $3.2 million in payments, he objected to an additional two-year delay in the artwork’s delivery. Silver stopped paying, and Gagosian refused him a refund. (Gagosian, for its part, claims the Hollywood producer “repeatedly failed to make [further] agreed-upon payments” even after the gallery offered a modified schedule.) The collector took the issue to court in April 2018.
In a statement, Silver’s lawyer Christine Chung said: “Joel Silver and Gagosian Gallery, Inc. are pleased to have settled their lawsuit. The claims and counter claims have been voluntarily dismissed. Under the settlement, Mr. Silver will move forward with the acquisition of the Balloon Venus Hohlen Fels work by Jeff Koons.” Gagosian’s lawyer did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
The same month Silver took Gagosian to court, asset management executive Steven Tananbaum filed a lawsuit against the gallery on similar grounds, alleging that he was owed three works by Koons. To date, Tananbaum has paid $13 million for the three works, roughly half the total, and has repeatedly been told the sculptures are forthcoming without any tangible sign that they are in fact underway, according to his legal team. The gallery moved to dismiss both lawsuits, insisting that Koons is “a perfectionist who often takes years” to make his sculptures.
On Monday, Silver’s case was “discontinued with prejudice and without costs, disbursements, or attorneys’ fees” to any party. Gagosian also dropped an appeal of its motion to dismiss the case. The Tananbaum case, meanwhile, is still active, despite Judge Saliann Scarpulla urging the two parties to settle.
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