A group of nine collectors of artwork by Keith Haring sued the foundation that bears his name and its directors on Friday, accusing the defendants of “wrongfully destroying” the value of their paintings by publicly labeling them as fakes and refusing to consider information that would establish their provenance.
The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, argues that the foundation’s actions have “limited the number of Haring works in the public domain, thereby increasing the value of the Haring works that the foundation and its members own or sell.”
The foundation sold more than $4.5 million worth of Haring artworks in 2008-11, the lawsuit said. It noted that the foundation disbanded its authentication committee in 2012.
The suit is one in a series of disputes that have arisen out of the increasing reluctance of foundations and experts to authenticate works because they fear being sued.
“This case is not only about the Keith Haring Foundation, but also the art world in general and how it operates,” said Brian C. Kerr, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.
One of the foundation’s lawyers, Michael Ward Stout, said, “We believe that the allegations are not supportable, and we will address them going forward.” The suit says the plaintiffs began buying Haring paintings in 2007 through friends of the onetime subway graffiti artist, who died in 1990 at the age of 31.
In 2007, a dealer working with Elizabeth Bilinski, one of the collectors, submitted photographic transparencies of several dozen of the works and letters of provenance to the foundation’s authentication committee, which rejected the works as “not authentic,” without explanation, according to the suit.
In March 2013, the plaintiffs exhibited works at a Haring show in Miami; the foundation sued the show’s organizers, claiming that the overwhelming majority of the works in the show were fake and that many had been found “not authentic” by the foundation in 2007, when Ms. Bilinski submitted them.
The lawsuit on Friday seeks $40 million in damages and says the plaintiffs lost sales because potential buyers were deterred by the foundation’s statements and actions.
WROTE BY BENJAMIN WEISER AND PUBLISHED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES