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Jean Michel Basquiat Flesh and Spirit
Jean Michel Basquiat's Flesh and Spirit

Disputed Basquiat Will Go to Auction

Judge denies collector Hubert Neumann’s attempt to block Sotheby’s planned sale of the artwork.

A New York Supreme Court judge has denied an injunction sought by disgruntled art collector Hubert Neumann in an attempt to block Sotheby’s planned sale of a Basquiat, which was consigned to the auction house by Neumann’s eldest daughter, Belinda.

According to transcripts of the hearing obtained by artnet News, the presiding Justice O. Peter Sherwood said he’s at a loss to understand how “[Neumann] can exercise authority over a piece of work that he and the interest that he represents have no entitlement to.”

Family Legal Feud

The lawsuit seems to be fueled by family discord dating back to 2016. Neumann’s estranged wife, Dolores Ormandy, completely disinherited him prior to her passing in October 2016, instead leaving a majority of her estate, including the Basquiat to Belinda. Neumann alleges that Belinda coerced her then-ailing mother to modify her will while practically on her death bed.

Neumann challenged Ormandy’s will in Surrogate Court, claiming that under New York law, a spouse can’t be completely disinherited and that he’s entitled to his one-third elective share. On finding out about the impending Sotheby’s auction of the Basquiat, which has an estimated value of $30 million, in the midst of the will contest, he filed the aforementioned injunction to stop the sale.

Basquiat Lawsuit

In his claim for an injunction, Neumann alleged that, according to an agreement between the two parties, Sotheby’s promised him control over “all matters relating to cataloging, placement, and exhibiting each and every work consigned” from the family collection. Sotheby’s argued that the Basquiat in question has never been controlled by any family collection and that its contract was with Neumann’s daughter, Belinda Neumann, the legal owner of the work.

The Court sided with Sotheby’s, finding that any existing contract between Sotheby’s and Neumann doesn’t extend to this piece. Furthermore, according to Artsy, the Court found that “Neumann had failed to establish [that] the sale would result in irreparable harm, a central legal test for an injunction, because his case was limited to halting the painting’s sale through Sotheby’s, not the sale of the work overall.”

As reported by The Art Newspaper, attorneys for Sotheby’s also rebutted Neumann’s claim that the painting’s appreciated market value should be factored into his share of the estate. They countered that “Neumann cannot claim that a portion of the Painting is included in his elective share of the Estate, nor can he include the appreciation of the Painting in his calculation to determine his net one-third share.”

Despite the Court finding his claims to be baseless, it’s been reported that Neuman’s attorney went ahead and filed an emergency appeal. As of press time, however, the painting, titled Flesh and Spirit (1982-83), appears set to be auctioned as planned at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on May 16.

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