The estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat has filed a complaint in the US District Court in Manhattan over a Christie’s online auction comprising contested and unauthenticated works, the New York Times reported. The sale, a “curated” (39 of “approximately 50” total works) portion of which launched Monday, consists of objects from the collection of Alexis Adler, Basquiat’s roommate in the East Village from 1979 to 1980. Predictably, it’s the sort of stuff a roommate accumulates: ratty clothing “slightly soiled, presumably due to the artist’s working method,” scribbles on scraps, a sketchbook, a couple of unremarkable works on paper.
The suit will probably not derail the sale, as Basquiat’s sisters, who manage his estate, only control the copyright for reproductions of his work, e.g. in the auction catalogue that is the basis of the present suit. The Christie’s catalogue’s final page cites the estate as the copyright holder of the images, even though the estate maintains that it refused permission to reproduce the works in the catalogue last month. Of the 50 or so works in the show, only seven were ever presented to the estate (six were authenticated, and one was rejected on the grounds of not being an artwork). The Times quotes the following illustrative passage from the suit:
Christie’s attempts to deceive and mislead the public into believing that the Estate authorized the reproduction of the artwork in the Catalog and that therefore the Catalog Items are authentic.
Regardless of how these legal questions shake out, this auction joins ex-girlfriend Paige Powell’s recent show of intimate snapshots of Basquiat in formalizing the desperate-cashing-out-of-hangers-on phase of the artist’s posthumous hype cycle.