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Judge Throws Out Lawsuit Over Julian Schnabel Painting

A woman who said she was duped into paying too much for a Julian Schnabel painting is not entitled to her money back because she relied solely on the value the dealer who sold it to her provided, according to a ruling by the New York State Supreme Court on October 22.

NEW YORK—A woman who said she was duped into paying too much for a Julian Schnabel painting is not entitled to her money back because she relied solely on the value the dealer who sold it to her provided, according to a ruling by the New York State Supreme Court on October 22.

According to the order dismissing the case, in May 2006, Korean collector Najung Seung paid Mary Dinaburg, of Fortune Cookie Projects, New York, $118,000 for Bulls and Bed, 1986, a painting by Pop artist John Wesley, only to learn that the dealer had already sold the painting to a third party. In recompense, Dinaburg offered her a $200,000 credit (the amount she had received for the Wesley painting) toward the purchase of Schnabel’s Chinkzee, 1983, an oil painting on velvet, which she priced at $380,000 with the gallery discount. Seung argued that she agreed to the price on the basis of Dinaburg’s alleged claims that the artwork was worth as much as $500,000.

In July of last year, Seung paid the dealer another $90,000, leaving a balance of $90,000. She subsequently learned that the painting had sold in May 2007 at Phillips de Pury & Company for $156,000 against an estimate of $60,000/80,000. Deciding she no longer wanted the painting, Seung refused to pay the remaining $90,000, and last February brought a lawsuit against Dinaburg in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for fraud, negiligent misrepresentation, breach of promise, and unjust enrichment (the case was later moved to the New York court).

In dismissing the suit, Judge Eileen Bransten ruled that claims as to the painting’s value were opinion, not to be relied upon “if the facts were not peculiarly within [the] other party’s knowledge.” Dinaburg did not possess any “unique or specialized expertise in the valuation of contemporary art beyond that typical of any dealer in the field,” the court ruled, and Seung’s “blind reliance on Dinaburg’s alleged statements of the painting’s value is not reasonable as a matter of law.” In addition, the order says, Seung “could have, but did not, obtain her own appraisal” of the work’s value.

Allan Effron, the lawyer for Dinaburg, told ARTnewsletter that the painting is in the possession of the artist, to whom the dealer had already given Seung’s $290,000, pending the remaining payment. “Seung’s choices are to either pay the $90,000 to complete the sale or to walk away from the deal, losing the $290,000,” he said.

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