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Satirical Artist Sues Museums That Excluded Him for $100 Million

Artist Robert Cenedella alleges that a “corporate museum cartel” engaged in an “unlawful conspiracy” to manipulate the market.

Antonio Canova, “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” (1545-1554) (Flickr via flowcomm)

An artist known for colorful and bizarre works of satire — including recent paintings of Trump’s America and Santa Claus nailed to a crucifix — has filed a federal class-action lawsuit against some of the world’s most powerful museums.

In an 18-page court filing, Robert Cenedella alleges that a “corporate museum cartel” engaged in an “unlawful conspiracy” to manipulate the market for contemporary art. The lawsuit, which first surfaced on Bloomberg, says the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the New Museum, and Museum of Modern Art all excluded Cenedella and “innumerable other deserving artists” while driving up the prices of their collections.

The first page of the filing in the Southern District of New York

Cenedella, who was also the star of the 2016 documentary Art Bastard, asked for 100 million dollars in damages — three times the annual revenue of the New Museum. His lawyer, Robert Hantman, said that he does not consider the lawsuit itself to be a work of performance art or satire.

“Our client is looking to make it an even playing field for all artists,” he told Hyperallergic. “I wouldn’t say it’s a performance.”

The five defendants are nonprofits, but the value of their collection rises as artists gain acclaim. And as prominent cultural institutions, the lawsuit suggests, the museums have the power to raise the profile of particular works.

For this reason, Hantman said, they should be seen as trusts, just like Standard Oil or the American Tobacco Company. “It appears that there’s an arrangement between the museums and the galleries — to artificially increase the cost of artworks from artists who have relationships to the galleries and the museums,” he said. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first defendant named in the lawsuit, declined to comment.

As one might expect, the lawsuit includes a statement by Cenedella. (Some might say that the lawsuit is a statement by Cenedella.) “The system today — put in place by galleries, auction houses, and art critiques [sic] — has nothing to do with talent, development of skill, or maturation of the art world,” his statement says. “Contemporary art has become a Con and Temporary.”

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