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Friday, May 17, 2024 | Back issues
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Family Fight Over a Warhol Continues

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A federal judge refused to dismiss a family squabble over Andy Warhol's portrait of a Texan socialite. Robert Fenton, the son of a late art dealer, sued his uncle in August to reclaim a Warhol portrait of his late mother.

Fenton says his mother, Joyce Balick Fenton aka Shaindy Fenton, was "a renowned art dealer who operated a private art gallery from her home in Fort Worth, Texas."

He says his mom became friends with Warhol and commissioned three portraits from him "in exchange for her transfer of certain artwork and jewelry to Mr. Warhol."

Warhol made three portraits of Shaindy Fenton, in 1978, 1980 and 1983. The acrylic silkscreen-on-canvas portraits were blue, red and pink, in that order.

Shaindy Fenton died in January 1984. In December that year, Robert Fenton says, he sent the blue portrait, worth more than $350,000, to his uncle, Neil Balick, a dentist.

Fenton says it was a loan, and that Balick understood that. The Fenton Family Trust, of which Robert is trustee, demanded return of the portrait in June 2011.

But Uncle Neil refused to return the artwork, so his nephew sued.

In his motion to dismiss, Balick claimed that Fenton had failed to state a claim and missed the statute of limitations.

U.S. District Judge John Padova disagreed last week, finding that the clock began running when Fenton demanded the return of the portrait - not when it changed hands in 1984.

Padova found that the claims properly alleged conversion and replevin.

"As to the element of inexcusable delay, based on the allegations in the complaint, the lapse of time between the injury and the commencement of the suit was only a few months, not 26 years as defendant avers," Padova wrote. "As to prejudice, defendant has asserted that he has been prejudiced by the delay because Shaindy, who is now deceased, would have testified that she gave defendant the blue portrait as a gift. But, according to the complaint, Shaindy transferred her rights to the blue portrait to the trust, not to defendant. Accepting this fact as true and considering only the allegations in the complaint, as we must when ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we cannot conclude that defendant has been prejudiced by Shaindy's inability to testify. Furthermore, as there are no allegations of fraud or concealment, our conclusion that the statute of limitations has not run guides our determination that laches too does not bar these claims. ...

"Accordingly, the Motion to Dismiss is denied."

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