MANHATTAN (CN) — Recasting claims that it spent nearly a decade shaping in federal court, a Paris gallery demands more than $18 million from a New York art dealer that it accuses of spoiling its contract with a now-deceased Chinese-French painter.
In a complaint filed Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court, Galerie Enrico Navarra describes a controversy that began three years into its partnership with artist Chu Teh-Chun.
With the Navarra Gallery footing the bill, according to the complaint, Chu produced more than a thousand ceramic plates produced at a foundry called La Tuilerie.
The Navarra Gallery, which is represented by attorneys at the New York law firm Wallison & Wallison, says the contract allotted it the lion’s share of the plates, a total of 816, while Chu exhibited a portion of his share at a Brussels gallery in 2016.
Contemporary Chinese art was a rapidly appreciating emerging market at the time, and the complaint says the Marlborough Gallery of Midtown West entered the picture “with promises immediate wealth and fame” for Chu.
Because of the Marlborough Gallery’s interference, according to the complaint, Chu labeled the Navarra Gallery’s plates a forgery.
“The damages from that breach – tantamount in consequence to smashing the entire stock of plates on the floor – have been total and devastating,” the complaint states.
Neither representatives for Marlborough nor Navarra Gallery attorney Jeremy Wallison have returned requests for comment.
Located just two blocks from Sotheby’s France, near the Champs-Elysees garden in Paris, the Navarra Gallery says each plate would fetch about $22,000, or $18 million for the full set, if marketed as authentic.
Similar to the contract Chu signed with it, the Navarra Gallery says Chu struck a deal with Marlborough Gallery in 2006 to produce 57 hand-painted ceramic vases at the French porcelain factory Sevres.
The Navarra Gallery received a cease-and-desist letter from Chu the following year, alleging that it had not paid him royalties on the works and did not split the plates as agreed.
Chu sued Navarra in Paris in 2007, and in 2008 he emailed the Christie’s auction house in Hong Kong to dispute the authenticity of 12 plates Navarra had put up for sale.
Later that year, according to the complaint, Chu published a “warning” about the Navarra Gallery in Le Journal des Arts, which has a readership of approximately 78,000.
Chu lost the ability to work or speak in 2009 after a debilitating stroke, and he died five years later at the age of 94.
Today, according to the complaint, “Chu occupies an elite status in the art market, commanding prices for his work at auction as high as $11 million, a record price set on November 26, 2016, at Christie’s in Hong Kong.”
“That record price is not an outlier,” the complaint states. “Over the past four years, no fewer than 41 Chu paintings have sold at auction for $1 million or more.”
But this was not the case in 1997 when the Navarra Gallery first began investing in Chu: the artist’s record auction price at that time “was a mere $47,000,” according to the complaint.
The complaint does not note the fate of Chu’s lawsuit in France against the Navarra Gallery. It does say, however, that the Navarra Gallery brought a federal complaint against the Marlborough Gallery in 2010.
After the Second Circuit held in 2018 that the Navarra Gallery had enough evidence to move forward with the case, the Navarra Gallery is now bringing its state claims of tortious interference in Manhattan Supreme Court.