Knowledge of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese collectors is as valuable as gold for galleries looking to conquer the East Asian art market. And for the last few years, Bona Yoo was Lehmann Maupin Gallery’s woman on the inside — until she suddenly decamped for a sales director position with competing gallery Lévy Gorvy in November 2018.
Shortly after her departure, the gallery discretely filed a lawsuit against Yoo. In an updated January 14 complaint submitted to a New York federal district court, Lehmann Maupin says that their former director “surreptitiously copied valuable trade secrets” and “maliciously corrupted” or deleted important information from their computer systems.
If the gallery’s litigation succeeds in court, Yoo could face penalties and fines under the Defend Trade Secrets Act, the Stored Communication Act, misappropriation fo confidential information under New York law, breach of a confidentiality agreement, and other claims.
Artnet News’ Eileen Kinsella reports that the lawsuit portrays Yoo as intentionally impeding her former employer’s business for her own financial gain at Lévy Gorvy — though the gallery is not specifically named in the complaint. In addition to recovering any damages incurred by Yoo’s actions, Lehmann Maupin hopes to prevent her from gaining any unfair competitive advantage in the industry. (The gallery declined to comment on the particulars of their legal case to Hyperallergic at this time.)
“Lehmann Maupin brought this lawsuit purely out of spite towards a former employee who, in Lehmann Maupin’s own words, was ‘a valuable leader at the gallery.’” Yoo’s attorney Tibor Nagy told artnet News. “Ms. Yoo intends to vigorously defend herself against her former employer’s baseless and vengeful claims.”
Yoo first worked with Lehmann Maupin as a consultant in 2015. Helping the gallery to expand its presence in South Korea by opening an outpost in Seoul, she quickly rose within the company, becoming a full-time associate director in 2017 before being named director, the highest position available. But in October 2018, the complaint alleges, Yoo “blindsided” the gallery by giving notice that she would leave “to expand another art gallery’s presence in Asia (and Korea specifically).” She initially gave Lehmann Maupin one day’s notice, though she eventually agreed to stay five days longer, until October 23, 2018.
Nearly a week later, on November 1, Lévy Gorvy announced that Yoo would join its ranks as a sales director. Celebrating the arrival of her new employee, gallery cofounder Dominique Lévy described her as having “an incredible global network, with expertise and experience in Asia, and Korea in particular.”
Since learning about the Yoo lawsuit, Lévy has come to her employee’s defense.”Tremendously saddened” by the allegations, Lévy tells artnet that she attempted to mediate the conflict directly with Rachel Lehmann, co-founder of Lehmann Maupin, shortly after learning about the imbroglio. The pair has known each other for 20 years, but failed to reach an agreement. “The art world is not the place for this aggressive behavior,” Lévy added. (Representatives from Lévy Gorvy declined Hyperallergic’s request for comment on the lawsuit.)
The complaint also indicates that Lehmann Maupin hired a computer forensics specialist to examine their computer systems upon the suspicion that Yoo had tampered with data before leaving the company. The suit claims that “to date, the vendor has discovered that, in addition to the ArtBase alterations, Bona Yoo purged hundreds of files” from her gallery-associated cloud storage in the week before her departure.
Yoo’s response to the lawsuit is due January 29. According to a protective order issued by Judge Alison J. Nathan on December 11, information during the trial will be kept confidential.