Escher Collector Says Licensing Outfit Wants a Monopoly

(Photograph by Hans Peters, courtesy of Dutch National Archives)

MANHATTAN (CN) – A leading collector of works by M.C. Escher claims in a federal complaint that the licensing arm for the late Dutch artist is trying to put competitors out of business.

Walker Fine Art and its principal, Rock Jerome Walker, brought the complaint against the M.C. Escher Foundation and others on Dec. 22 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Nearly a decade after Maurits Cornelis Escher’s death in 1972, according to the complaint, a deal with Hague Gemeentemuseum allowed Escher’s estate to put up for sale about 90 percent “of the collection of wood blocks, original drawings in various media, prints and possessions owned by the artist.”

Walker says he belonged to a member of a partnership that bought about 90 percent of the collection and that he now “owns the second largest collection of original Escher art works in the world.”

The business that licenses reproduction rights for Escher’s images soon grew to resent Walker’s dominance of the market, according to the complaint.

As a Dutch organization, the defendants “see themselves as the rightful heirs to leadership in the Escher market, notwithstanding the fact that plaintiff’s leadership stature in the Escher field is the product of substantial efforts and business risks in which Walker and WFA have been engaged for over forty years,” the complaint states.

Walker says the Escher Foundation, Cordon Holding and the officers of these entities have made it their business to hurt his.

“As a result of the defendants’ activities, Walker and WFA have been able to make only two sales for a total of $10,000 over the last eight years,” the complaint states.

Walker estimates $5 million in lost profits on sales of original art, plus “lost hanging fees in the amount of $2.5 million and shares in gate receipts in the amount of $1 million.”

“The defendants are well aware of their perceived power to control all exhibition of Escher works,” the complaint states.

Just this past March, for example, Walker says he received an email from Mark Veldhuysen Jr., the managing director of M.C. Escher Co., boasting of this power.

Veldhuysen allegedly wrote “that it had come to his attention that Walker and WFA were planning to have an Escher exhibition in Korea, further informing Plaintiffs that Defendants would do an Escher exhibition in Korea, and that Defendants would not grant permission to Walker and WFA or any other entity to have an Escher exhibit in Korea.”

“The defendants further threatened, in blatant misuse of the Escher copyrights, that with respect to any such exhibition, it would misuse its copyrights to block any catalog, publicity, and merchandising in association with such exhibition,” the complaint states.

Walker says the Escher Foundation and its cohorts “have dedicated themselves 1) to damaging the business of Walker and Walker Fine Art, and, to the extent possible, 2) to excluding Walker and WFA from doing business in the Escher Market, including excluding and/or hampering Plaintiffs from selling original artworks, staging exhibitions, hanging original artworks.”

The Dutch graphic artist Escher worked from about 1920 until his death in 1972. “His works included mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints, featuring geometric objects, visual operations (such as evolutions from one object to another, and representations of impossible objects), and explorations of geometric, physical and natural forms, and the perception of the same,” the complaint states. “In the course of this work, Escher interacted with prominent mathematicians including George Pólya, Roger Penrose, and Harold Coxeter.”

Walker credits himself with having “taken the lead in popularizing Escher in contemporary culture.” He says he has a personal goal to institute “an Escher Prize recognizing individual achievement in education in mathematics and the sciences.”

“As a result of the activities of Walker and WFA, Escher has become one of the most popular artists in the world,” the complaint states.

The 28-page complaint demands damages and an injunction, alleging defamation, copyright misuse and violations of federal antitrust laws, among other claims.

Walker is represented by Anthony Handal with the firm Handal & Morofsky.

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