MANHATTAN (CN) - The late artist Keith Haring's foundation destroyed the value of his paintings by calling them "fake," and ignored information that would prove their authenticity, art collectors claim in a $40-million lawsuit.
Elizabeth Bilinski and eight other collectors and dealers sued The Keith Haring Foundation, Haring's estate, and the foundation's directors, in Federal Court.
They claim the foundation inflated the value of Haring art owned by its members by refusing to authenticate other collectors' legitimate works and calling them counterfeit.
Haring, who died in 1990 at 31, rose to fame in the 1980s for his street culture-inspired paintings, murals and subway graffiti, many of which he created to benefit disadvantaged communities, orphanages and health centers.
He created murals and organized drawing workshops for children in New York, Tokyo and European capitals.
"Haring was an influential artist and social activist of the late 20th century," the collectors say in the lawsuit. "His work responded to the New York City street culture of the 1980s by expressing concepts of birth, death, sexuality, and war. Throughout his career, Haring devoted much of his time to public works with clear social messages concerning subjects like drug addiction and AIDS. As a result, his work was often heavily political and his imagery has become a widely recognized visual language of the 20th century."
His 1986 "Crack is Wack" mural has become a landmark on New York City's FDR Drive.
In 1989, shortly before his death, Haring established a foundation to continue his philanthropic work through contributions and grants to charitable and educational nonprofits.
The foundation maintains a collection of art and archives that facilitate research about the artist and the times and places where he lived and worked, according to its website.
"For many years, the foundation operated an authentication committee that accepted applications for review of artworks attributed to Haring," Bilinski's complaint states. "The committee made its decisions in secret, with little or no explanation, and often without ever physically inspecting the works. Indeed, in many cases, no inspection was performed because the works were being rejected for reasons entirely unrelated to their authenticity.
"In 2007, defendants agreed to review plaintiffs' application that defendants authenticate certain of the Haring works. Defendants denied the authenticity of the works based on their review of a single photographic transparency of each work. Defendant Julia Gruen, an authorized representative of the foundation and the estate, told plaintiffs, however, that defendants' opinion 'may change by reason of circumstances arising or discovered' after the date of the opinion. In reliance on this statement (and others), plaintiffs expended significant time and resources, over the course of many years, obtaining additional information establishing the provenance of the Haring works. However, the foundation and the authentication committee members ignored and failed to review the information provided by plaintiffs. Instead, defendants arbitrarily refused to consider the information, or to express an opinion on the authenticity of the Haring works, even though an artwork owned by the late Dennis Hopper, with provenance similar to the Haring works, was authenticated by the foundation following the actor's death in May 2010.