Woman at the NY Public Library, still from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s ‘Finding Vivian Maier’ (photo by Vivian Maier, courtesy the Maloof Collection)

Collector Jeffrey Goldstein has sold the bulk of his Vivian Maier collection to Toronto’s Stephen Bulger Gallery, largely removing himself from the ongoing legal saga surrounding the photographer’s estate. The sale, first reported by StreetShootr over the weekend, encompasses 17,500 black-and-white negatives, which dealer Stephen Bulger estimates as “15% of the entire Vivian Maier collection” — although the extensive scattering of Maier’s possessions near the end of her life and posthumously suggests that the true size of the collection remains unknown. Goldstein would not disclose the sum of the transaction in a conversation with Hyperallergic, but called it an “amount we were both satisfied with.” He added that he could have sold the collection to someone in Asia “for an enormous amount” but chose to go with Stephen Bulger Gallery — with whom he’d previously collaborated on showing Maier’s work — because “it’s a perfect home” for the archive.

“It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling to know that it’s in the hands of people who are really going to respect it,” Goldstein said. The collector retains an additional 2,000 vintage prints by Maier as well as some 500 pieces of “color material” — including prints, negatives, slides, and transparencies — but called the the transfer of most of his archive to Bulger “what was best for the collection in light of all that’s taken place.”

That comment refers to the legal tangle that’s ensnared the Maier archive, with lawyer David Deal and then the Cook County public administrator stepping in to challenge an arrangement that had previously been worked out among collector John Maloof, Goldstein, and the man they presumed to be Maier’s legal heir. This summer, Deal petitioned Cook County to have another man recognized as Maier’s rightful heir, but according to both Goldstein and Bulger, Cook County has since determined that Vivian’s rightful heir is her brother, Charles Maier. Charles’s whereabouts are unknown after 1955, Goldstein said; the genealogist that he and Maloof hired was unable to find any later trace. Deal’s legal petition from July states that Charles “is believed to have predeceased” Vivian, and “the affiant has no knowledge as to whether [he] ever married, had or adopted children.”

Cook County must now wait seven years, according to Goldstein (Stephen Bulger says six), to see if Charles comes forward. In the meantime, the county retains the copyright on Vivian’s images, which means Bulger, Maloof, and anyone else who wishes to display or reproduce them must have approval first. The county is simultaneously attempting to discover and register the Maier assets owned by Maloof, Bulger, and others, because while it claims to hold copyright, it is not in possession of the physical negatives and prints. Goldstein sees this as an attempt “to drive funds into the estate” through licensing deals, a sentiment echoed by Bulger in his interview with StreetShootr. Accordingly, the Stephen Bulger Gallery does not currently display any images of Maier’s work on its website, although the images remain on Maloof’s.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...