A Dale Chihuly sculpture at the Denver Botanic Garden (photo by Kari/Flickr)

A Dale Chihuly sculpture at the Denver Botanic Garden (photo by Kari/Flickr)

A man who formerly worked for Dale Chihuly has filed a lawsuit against the renowned glass artist, his wife, and his studio, claiming to have “participated in myriad clandestine painting sessions” and helped create hundreds of valuable works without credit or payment. The lawsuit follows a demand, sent to Chihuly in February, in which the former employee requested $21 million and to be credited as a joint creator on many of the artist’s works.

Michael Moi met Dale Chihuly in 1999 aboard his boat, the Meteor, and worked for him from 2001 to 2015. In the lawsuit, filed on Friday, Moi claims that for much of that time he facilitated marathon painting sessions at the artist’s Seattle boathouse and, with the help of another assistant, applied the artist’s signature to new works “[w]hen Chihuly was unwilling or unable” to do so. The lawsuit alleges that Chihuly’s struggle with bipolar disorder and worsening health over the last three years have resulted in the bulk of his work being made by assistants.

A Dale Chihuly sculpture at the New York Botanical Garden (photo by Lisa Selwitz/Hyperallergic)

“Chihuly’s involvement was limited to signing completed works; he played no role in the creative process,” Moi’s lawsuit claims. “Moi painted backgrounds and added drips, dashes and lines to innumerable drawings, paintings, and Plexiglas panels.” Moi claims that while he was never paid or made to sign a contract during the 14 years he worked for Chihuly, the artist “frequently promised and assured Moi that when the Studio wound down its operations, Moi would be properly financially compensated for his contributions.”

In a countersuit also filed in Seattle on Friday, Chihuly and his company, Chihuly Inc., describe Moi as “a former contractor and handyman,” denying that he ever performed any function in the artist’s studio. The countersuit denies all of Moi’s allegations and stops just short of suggesting that his claim amounts to blackmail.

“This lawsuit is not about [Moi’s] entitlement to rightful compensation,” Chihuly’s countersuit states. “Rather, it is about [Moi] threatening to go public with information he considers embarrassing, sensational, and harmful to [Chihuly] unless his demand for $21 million is accepted in return for his silence.”

Indeed, Moi’s complaint contains plenty of seemingly sensational details about episodes he claims took place at Chihuly’s boathouse studio on Lake Union. One such passage reads:

Chihuly’s trust in and dependence on Moi grew over time, and Moi considered Chihuly a close friend. As this friendship and bond deepened, it was a normal occurrence for Moi to frequent Chihuly’s private living quarters while the artist soaked in and made phone calls from the white claw foot tub in his library/bedroom. Moi and Chihuly socialized often, sharing many meals together in Chihuly’s upstairs kitchen and drinking heavily while Chihuly entertained multiple girlfriends. The two men also shared Human Growth Hormone (HGH) and Vitamin B shots provided by Chihuly’s doctor.

In his countersuit, Chihuly is demanding the dismissal of Moi’s claims, the “return [of] all originals and any copies of Dale Chihuly’s personal property in Mr. Moi’s possession,” and that Moi pay for the artist’s legal costs.

Chihuly, whose colorful and abstract glass sculptures have been shown at institutions the world over — including currently at the New York Botanical Garden — has been instrumental in studio glass’s rise in popularity over the course of his five-decade career. In 2006, he filed lawsuits of his own against a former employee, glass blower Bryan Rubino, and a businessman named Robert Kaindl, alleging copyright and trademark violation. Both were settled independently. In 2012, he opened Chihuly Garden and Glass, a permanent institution showcasing his works in the shadow of the Space Needle.

A Dale Chihuly sculpture at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle (photo by Jllm06, via Wikimedia Commons)

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

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