(CN) - The sisters of late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat claim in court that Christie's auction house lied about their endorsement of 50 purported Basquiat works "of questionable authenticity" to increase bids and boost sales.
Jeanine Basquiat Heriveaux and Lisane Basquiat sued the auctioneer in Federal Court in Manhattan, claiming the catalog contains a false endorsement and constitutes false advertising.
According to the complaint, Christie's "published a glossy 148-page catalog entitled 'Jean-Michel Basquiat: Works From The Collection of Alexis Adler' to publicize its March 2014 sales of approximately 50 items purportedly created by the artist."
Adler claims to have lived with the Haitian-American artist between 1979 and 1980, and says he left the items in the apartment when he moved out, the lawsuit states.
As a teen in the 1970s, Basquiat began leaving his artistic mark by spray-painting aphorisms and philosophical poems around Manhattan under the fictional name SAMO (for "same old shit"). A few years later, he met fellow artists Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, and had his first public art exhibition in Times Square in 1980. His neo-expressionist work took off in the early 1980s, leading to collaborations with artists and musicians such as Andy Warhol and David Bowie.
Basquiat died of a heroin overdose on Aug. 12, 1988. He was 27.
His two younger sisters, as administrators of his estate, say Adler submitted seven of the catalog items for authentication in 2007, but only six of them checked out as genuine.
"The remainder of the catalog items were not only not authenticated by the authentication committee or the estate, but also were never submitted to them for review," they claim.
When Christie's asked the estate last month for permission to reproduce some of Basquiat's works in the catalog, the sisters say they denied the request.
They claim the auction house "knows or has reason to believe that many of the catalog items are of questionable authenticity due to the facts that: (a) an average person could see that the printing on the catalog items was done by a number of different individuals; and (b) a casual observer of contemporary art would believe that the printing on many of the catalog items is clearly not that of the artist."
"If the items in the catalog are not authentic they are virtually worthless," Basquiat's sisters say. One of the artist's paintings, "Dustheads," sold last year for nearly $49 million, according to the lawsuit.
His sisters say Christie's tried to legitimize the 50 items for sale and to trick the public into thinking Basquiat's estate endorsed the sale by including a notice on the last page of the catalog that read: "All artwork by Jean-Michel Basquiat: © 2014 the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat/ADAGP, Paris/ARS, New York."
Christie's allegedly included the notice "to increase auction prices ... and to maximize Christie's income from their sales."
The estate is suing Christie's Inc. for false endorsement, false advertising, violations of New York's General Business Law and unfair competition.
Basquiat's sisters demand $2 million in actual damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
They are represented by James Cinque of Cinque & Cinque in Manhattan.
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