According to the LA Times, Chuck Close, Laddie John Dill and the estate of sculptor Robert Graham are suing the world’s largest auction houses, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, for royalties they say they are entitled to under the California Resale Royalty Act. The auction houses, of course, say the suit is meritless, but the article mentions:

If successful, these suits could be more than a slap against Christie’s and Sotheby’s: They could affect how galleries with resale practices throughout California run their business — or shift that business elsewhere.

Oh, so THAT’S one of the reasons that LA has never been able to build a gallery scene that rivals New York or London.

The California Arts Council has a helpful explanation of the law on their site and a list of artists who they can’t contact (for whatever reason) or those who have not responded to their requests. Here is the case study of how the law works:

For example, in 1981, when Ghiradelli Square in San Francisco was sold, artist Ruth Asawa was paid a $5,000 resale royalty. That sum represented five percent of the appraised value of the fountain she created some years earlier which had been sold along with the rest of Ghiradelli Square. Another interesting case involved Sacramento artist Jack Nielsen. His sculpture was part of an office complex whose owner went bankrupt. When the real estate, including his sculpture, was sold in foreclosure, Nielsen sued claiming that, although the office complex had declined in value, the sculpture he created had appreciated from $30,000 to $125,000 and he was entitled to a resale royalty. He won.

Though, it seems hard to believe that Jennifer Bartlett, John McCracken, George Condo or the estates of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Larry Rivers have yet to respond to their queries.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.