New court papers filed in billionaire collector Ron Perelman’s lawsuit against Gagosian Gallery charge that the art dealer sold Perelman an unfinished granite “Popeye” sculpture by Jeff Koons for $4 million before it even had the rights to it. It was only after Perelman and Gagosian inked the 2010 sale that the dealer went to its actual owner, Sonnabend Gallery, which also shows Koons’s work, and purchased it several weeks later, according to newly filed documents in support of Perelman’s fraud and breach-of-contract suit against Gagosian. Incidentally, Perelman too sought to sell the sculpture for a profit before he even possessed it.
Perelman says he didn’t know about the Sonnabend contract and takes issue with it now because it gave the gallery the right to delay the work’s delivery date and included a stipulation that Koons must receive a majority of the profits should Perelman resell “Popeye” through Gagosian. Since Perelman says that everyone involved knows he is not a “static collector” — he has bought and traded more than 50 works through the gallery since the mid-1990s — Gagosian should have disclosed any outside agreement that would impact his “investment strategy.” (In his motion to dismiss the lawsuit, Gagosian has argued that he has no fiduciary responsibility to Perelman because he, too, is “no babe in the woods” when it comes to the art market.)
What’s worse is that Gagosian, in Perelman’s eyes, essentially admitted to giving him a raw deal when he refused to resell “Popeye” at the gallery a year and a half later — it wouldn’t have been worth it after Koons got his cut. This made it next to impossible for Perelman to sell the work, he says, since the gallery is by far the most important Koons dealer.
Ultimately, Gagosian had worked all sides of the deal, lawyers argue, using the “multiple hats to their advantage by undervaluing works when purchasing them, overvaluing them when selling them, and pocketing the substantial difference.” Perelman, meanwhile, had to either make a trade or be stuck with a big, profitless “Popeye.”
— Rachel Corbett
(Photo: Jeff Koons, “Popeye”/BORIS ROESSLER/AFP/GettyImages)