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Collector Says Gallery Lost Key to Minimal Art

MANHATTAN (CN) - A collector claims in court that Chicago-based Rhona Hoffman Gallery lost the certificate of authenticity, signed by minimalist artist Sol LeWitt, without which his $350,000 wall drawing cannot be created, or sold.

Roderic Steinkamp sued Rhona Hoffman and her gallery in New York County Supreme Court.

LeWitt, a bellwether of conceptual art, formulated his wall drawings as a set of instructions, directing artists to paint a variety of colors, shapes and patterns onto a wall instead of on a canvas or freestanding structure.

Steinkamp claims Hoffman lost the certificate of authenticity for LeWitt's maquette, or wall drawing, No. 448.

"Since the wall drawings do not constitute freestanding, portable works of art like a framed canvas or a sculpture on a podium, documentation of the work is key to transmitting it or selling it to a collector or institution," the complaint states. "The unique nature of Sol LeWitt's wall drawings renders their accompanying certificates of authenticity critical to the works' value."

The certificates became even more essential to the work after LeWitt died on April 8, 2007.

Steinkamp, of Puerto Rico, said that he consigned his certificate for LeWitt's "Wall Drawing #448" to the Rhona Hoffman Gallery on March 31, 2008.

According to his complaint, each certificate states, "This certification is the signature for the wall drawing and must accompany the wall drawing if it is sold or otherwise transferred."

Steinkamp claims the Hoffman Gallery signed a consignment agreement making it liable for all loss, damage or deterioration, before reporting in early 2011 that the certificate was "lost and irretrievable."

Steinkamp says he wrote to the gallery in January this year, urging it to "bring closure" to the "missing certificate issue," only to be told that its insurer would not cover the "mysterious disappearance" of the certificate.

According to the complaint, gallery owner Rhona Hoffman added, "'I would have to make a police claim but in order to do that I would have to lie about the timing and I don't like doing that. It has been too long to call the cops but we are checking.'"

The complaint continues: "Admitting her fault and legal responsibility, defendant Hoffman requested from plaintiff the 'smallest amount' he 'would accept,' acknowledging that 'if worse comes to worse' she 'will have to pay' plaintiff 'cash.'"

Steinkamp says: "The original certificate, issued and signed by the artist who is now deceased, is a unique and irreplaceable document that cannot be generated anew or replaced. There is no substitute for the original certificate entrusted to the care, custody, and control of the defendants.

"The original certificate is required for the sale of the wall drawing."

Steinkamp seeks at least $350,000 for breach of contract, breach of bailment, negligence and conversion.

He is represented by Aaron Golub.

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