A genuine Mark Rothko painting on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (photo by Jasmine Weber/Hyperallergic)

Fool a powerful Hollywood executive even once, then shame on you — and promptly lawyer up. 

Ron Meyer, vice chairman of NBCUniversal and a co-founder of the omnipotent Creative Artists’ Agency (CAA), has filed a $10 million lawsuit in California Superior Court against two art dealers who allegedly sold him a fake Mark Rothko painting. 

Meyer bought the work for $900,000 in 2001 from Manhattan art dealer Susan Seidel. He paid an additional $45,000 commission fee — or 5% of the sale — to Seidel. His suit is seeking $10 million in damages for fraud and breach of warranty. However, if the court decides Seidel and her co-conspirator were themselves duped into thinking the work was real, Seidel would settle for a return of his $945,o00. 

The painting was prominently displayed in Meyer’s Los Angeles home for almost 20 years — until, that is, he realized in January that it was inauthentic. The executive was reportedly referred to Seidel by California dealer Jamie Frankfort. 

It was then that he realized, the painting “has essentially no value at all, that it had never been accepted for inclusion in the Rothko Catalogue Raisonné and that it had never been owned, possessed, signed or even seen by Rothko or acquired from Rothko by the seller or the seller’s family or anyone else,” said attorney Bertram Fields in Meyer’s complaint.

At the time of the sale, Meyer was told the painting featured a genuine signature by the artist. He was also led to believe the work was slated for inclusion in Rothko’s catalogue raisonne and was acquired directly by the seller’s family from the artist himself. 

“Contrary to the representations of Seidel, known to and approved by Frankfort, the painting is not, in any part, the work of Rothko, but is a total forgery, that it has essentially no value at all,” the suit, Ron Meyer v. Susan Seidel et al.,  argues.  

Meyer’s litigation follows the example of several high-profile suits filed by gilded Hollywood players. (Alec Baldwin took New York-based dealer Mary Boone to court in 2006 for peddling a copy of a Ross Bleckner painting). 

Rothko’s work — now ubiquitous by way of postcards and calendar reproductions — routinely sells for millions of dollars. 

“Had defendants’ representations been true, as plaintiff reasonably believed until January 2019, the present value of the Painting would be at least $10 million,” Fields writes in the complaint. “Since the Painting is not genuine, it has virtually no value and never will.”

Susan Seidel Inc. has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment. 

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Kate Gill

Kate Gill is a writer, editor, and filmmaker based in Brooklyn.

2 replies on “A Hollywood Executive Sues Dealer for $10M Over Alleged Mark Rothko Forgery”

  1. Well, I see that I need to read the fine, light grey print a little closer. I see that the painting pictured at the top of this article is *not* the painting under discussion. It would have been nice to have been able to see and respond to the one Ron Meyer purchased.

    That said, I hope the reader of my original comment (see below) will make the necessary adjustments. I think my essential point(s), however, remain in tact.

    Gee whizz, if the painting “has virtually no value and never will”, I wonder if Meyer would be willing to sell it for the cost of the canvas and the pigment. Whatever, whoever painted it, it is certainly a striking work of art. I think Meyer should be proud to have had it hanging in his home, but I also think he over paid. Perhaps he thought he was buying a *name* and not a *painting*. Even so, 900,000, to say nothing of a few million for a certified Rothko, is also an overpayment, mostly, I suppose, to cover the cost of promotion and hype. Don’t get me wrong, I love Rothko’s work, but it’s become clear that the value of a work of art sold by a gallery or an auction house is *no longer* in the eye of the beholder, *not* in the painting itself, but in the value of ownership.

  2. Art in this instance is simply a commodity, and the value is in the ownership, as Mai Rafner said. Rothko was already dead 30 years on when the forged painting was passed off as his, and that a Rothko now goes “routinely for millions” is of no consequence to the artist, or his beneficiaries. It would be nice to start treating art in this realm as nothing more than what it is, investment chattel. Start compensating the artists and their estates their due when values sky rocket, and you may once again consider it art. As for Mr Meyer’s dliemma, who cares?
    .1%-er problems, while Rome burns.

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