Spade’s lawsuit in Superior Court accuses New York gallery owner Peter Tunney of fraudulently concealing that one of the four Beard works he sold Spade in 2001 was unfinished, unsigned and sold without the artist’s permission.
Spade also accuses Beard, his wife and his studio of unfairly refusing to authenticate the work at issue to increase the value of other Beard works the artist still owns.
Beard, 79, was a leading figure in the art scene in the 1970s and ’80s. The son of an aristocratic New York family, he was friends with Mick Jagger and Andy Warhol and was married for several years to supermodel Cheryl Tiegs.
He gained fame for his fashion photography and his photographs of African animals. His best-known photo collages often combined both — large photos of animals and models, surrounded and enhanced by snippets of his diaries, line drawings, news clippings and even his own blood.
Spade says in the lawsuit that “the Beards’ and Beard Studio’s methods and criteria for authenticating and evaluating the completion of Mr. Beard’s works are uncertain, inconsistent and arbitrary.”
He adds that Beard’s refusal to acknowledge that the piece he purchased is a “signed, completed piece is willfully intended … to inhibit plaintiff’s ability to sell the artwork, all in order to control and limit the sale of artworks by Mr. Beard, and thereby increase the value of other of Mr. Beard’s artworks in their possession and control.”
It’s not the first litigation in recent years involving ownership of some of Beard’s large, mixed-media photo collages. In 2015, his former model Natalie White settled her claim that Beard had promised her 50 giant Polaroid prints of her and several supermodels from a photo shoot she’d funded.
Spade, a stand-up comic and actor gained fame as a “Saturday Night Live” cast member in the 1990s, then starred in the television comedies “Just Shoot Me!” and “Rules of Engagement,” and several successful movies.
Spade says he bought four pieces of Beard’s art from Tunney’s gallery in December 2001, two “monumental” photographic works and two smaller ones. He paid $40,000 for one of the large pieces, “Untitled (Elephants and Baboon).”
The complaint does not reveal how much he paid for the other pieces, but Spade says he sold the other large work “for a considerable profit” in 2014.
According to news reports, Spade that year sold a Beard piece called “Orphan Cheetah Triptych,” a large, gelatin silver print showing three images of baby cheetahs surrounded by ink, blood, snakeskin and “various collage elements.”
Christie’s auction house had sold the work in 2012 for $662,500, suggesting that it is not the monumental work at issue in this lawsuit.
Spade’s attorney, Los Angeles art litigation specialist David Paul Steiner, did not return a phone call Thursday.
Beard’s gallery and the attorney who represented Beard in the Nicole White litigation, Judd B. Grossman in New York, could not be reached late Thursday.
Spade says in his complaint that he looked into selling his other monumental work in mid-2014, and that Tunney had told him the “Untitled” work was complete and “signed by his [Beard’s] African name Ndefutu (sic) and variously inscribed in ink.”
But Spade says he discovered “through various communications between his own representatives, third parties and representatives of Beard Studio that the artwork might not have been either completed or signed by Mr. Beard.”
Spade also claims that he learned that around the time he was buying the Beard works from Tunney, the artist and his longtime manager and gallerist had parted ways and “were engaged in a dispute as to Tunney’s authority to sell works by Mr. Beard,” which he says Tunney intentionally hid from him.
And, he says, the gallery owner concealed that the Ndefutu signature “may not have constituted a valid signature sufficient to confirm its authenticity.”
Previous litigation involving Beard’s has raised questions about how and when pieces were considered complete, given that he sometimes adds collage elements to photos he had taken years or decades before, Spade says in the complaint. He says the other lawsuits also gave varying accounts of how Beard signs his works, how sales were documented, who had authority to sell pieces, and other issues.
As for Spade’s piece, the actor says: “To date, neither of the Beards nor Beard Studio has provided definitive statements regarding the completion or incompletion of the artwork, or whether the manner in which the artwork was inscribed by Mr. Beard is sufficient to qualify the artwork as an authentic, signed work by the artist.”
If “Untitled” were “authenticated as a signed and completed work,” it would be worth at least $500,000, Spade says in the complaint. But an authentic but incomplete work would be worth less, and “an incomplete work lacking confirmation of authenticity by Mr. Beard or Beard Studio would be even less valuable, if not completely unsellable.”
Spade seeks a court order declaring the work authentic and complete, and punitive damages for fraudulent inducement, fraudulent concealment, negligent misrepresentation, interference with business relations and prospective economic advantage, and unfair competition.