David LaChapelle, the celebrity photographer whose lurid and surreal images of everything from Eminem and Madonna to artworks by Murakami and Koons, is suing the Chelsea gallerist Fred Torres, with whom he entered into an informal representation deal via “a handshake agreement,” the New York Post reports, for more than $2.8-million in money he is owed for sales of his work.
According to papers filed in a federal court in Manhattan, Torres also owes LaChapelle some $755,000 in personal loans, and is sitting on a trove of more than 800 prints of the artist’s work scattered in art storage facilities in Italy, Hong Kong, Korea, and elsewhere.
According to the terms of Torres and LaChapelle’s original agreement, the former helped organize exhibitions, sales, and the production and reproduction of the latter’s works. The artist was to receive between 40 and 70 percent of the sales price of photographs that Torres sold within 30 days of payment. Things began to go awry when the gallerist began asking clients to pay the production costs of LaChapelle’s high-quality prints, which he was supposed to cover.
The artist sent Torres a letter last month formally putting an end to their working relationship. However, according to court documents filed by LaChapelle’s lawyers, Torres continues to claim he represents LaChapelle — although his name has been removed from the artist roster on his gallery’s website — and is currently organizing “an unauthorized gallery showing” of the photographer’s work in Montana next year.
— Benjamin Sutton