Collector Joel Greene Countersues Honolulu Art Museum in Provenance Feud

A 13th-century Buddhist trinity, smuggled from Cambodia, that Joel Alexander Greene donated to the Honolulu Academy of Arts. HONOLULU ACADEMY OF ARTS/VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

A 13th-century Buddhist trinity, smuggled from Cambodia, that Joel Alexander Greene donated to the Honolulu Academy of Arts.


On July 31, we learned from Courthouse News that the Honolulu Art Museum had filed a lawsuit against collector and philanthropist Joel Alexander Greene for failing to prove that five Southeast Asian works he had donated to the museum in 2004 had not been smuggled. Greene, who had offered to deliver 37 more works, had been receiving an $80,000 annuity for life for his initial donation.

The museum alleges that Greene was not able to provide provenance, import, and export documentation for the works, which together were estimated at $1.3 million. Consequently, its collection committee voted to cancel Greene’s annuity deal.

Now Greene is firing back in court with a countersuit, saying that his name has been unfairly tarnished and that previously, in his dealings with the museum, there had been “no question as to the title of the pieces.” Yesterday, via email, he sent ARTnews a press release stating the following:

RE: Honolulu Academy of Arts dba Honolulu Art Museum vs. Joel Alexander Greene, CV 15000355 DKW-KSC, United States District Court for the District of Hawaii


Joel Alexander Greene, a Lifetime Member of the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Anna Rice Cook Society, and a major donor to the Museum, responded to the Museum’s declaratory action against him by filing a counterclaim against the Museum for breach of contract and damages.

Mr. Greene who is 80 years old and a published graduate art historian, donated and loaned to the Honolulu Museum of Art, more than a decade ago, works of art valued in excess of $2.5 million. In exchange for the donation, the Museum, in a long-accepted practice employed by all major non-profit charitable organizations, gave Mr. Greene a Charitable Gift Annuity Agreement, which obligated the Museum to pay him $80,000/year until his death, upon which the Agreement terminates. The Annuity Agreement, which was prepared by the Museum’s attorneys and approved by its Board of Directors, was not executed until after the Museum had conducted its due diligence on all of the pieces covered by the Agreement and had the pieces independently appraised.

Given the foregoing, Mr. Greene was shocked when with barely five days’ notice before its next payment to him was due, the Honolulu Museum of Art notified Mr. Greene on June 26, 2015 that his Charitable Gift Annuity, legally contracted for and in effect since 2004, would be suspended effective July 1, 2015. In a regrettable attempt to justify this breach of contract, the administration of the current Director of the Museum, Stephan Jost, has suggested by interviews quoted in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Art News [sic] and other media that Mr. Greene did not have clear title to the pieces he gave the Museum more than a decade ago. Prior to Mr. Jost’s administration as Director, there had been no requests by the museum for further documentation from Mr. Greene and no question as to the title of the pieces. Now, after more than a decade of amicable relations between the Museum and Mr. Greene, Mr. Jost has resorted to tarnishing Mr. Greene’s name in the media to pressure him into surrendering to unreasonable demands that Mr. Greene forget his legal rights. The allegations against Mr. Greene are without merit and he is fully prepared to refute them in court. Mr. Greene is confident that justice will prevail and his payments reinstated, along with whatever other remedies the court may find appropriate.

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