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In Lawsuit Over Kusama ‘Infinity Mirror Room’, German Firm Alleges Dealer Inigo Philbrick Won’t Return $14 M. in Art

Yayoi Kusama, 'All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins,' 2016.

Yayoi Kusama, All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, 2016.

©YAYOI KUSAMA/COURTESY OTA FINE ARTS, TOKYO AND SINGAPORE, AND VICTORIA MIRO GALLERY, LONDON

A new lawsuit in Florida pits a noted London- and Miami-based art dealer against a financial services firm who has alleged that the gallerist is withholding $14 million in works by Donald Judd, Yayoi Kusama, Christopher Wool, and Wade Guyton.

The lawsuit—filed in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Miami-Dade County on October 4—concerns a group of works that Miami dealer Inigo Philbrick and his gallery are allegedly withholding from Fine Art Partners (FAP), a Germany-based financial services company specialized in the art market.

FAP is seeking the return of its artworks, which Philbrick had been charged with selling. (Essentially, FAP financed the purchase of the artworks and alleges that it retains sole ownership of them.) The complaint alleges that the works are being kept in Miami at Philbrick’s gallery and an art storage facility called Artmoves Florida, and that Philbrick has “refused” to return the works.

Among the works that Philbrick is allegedly refusing to return is Kusama’s 2016 installation All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, one of the artist’s famed “Infinity Mirror Room” works with reflective surfaces and dotted pumpkin sculptures. The work is being shown in Miami’s Design District now by the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami; visitors must pay $5 on certain days to enter the work. Inigo Philbrick Gallery is listed on the ICA’s website as one of the show’s sponsors.

A representative for the museum said that the ICA was not aware of the lawsuit during the run-up to the show’s opening earlier this month. In a statement, Tommy Pace, the deputy director of the ICA, said that the work will remain on view as planned through January 31. “The work is on loan to the Museum from a private collection,” he said. “We were not aware of the dispute when the exhibition was planned, but it appears to be an issue between the previous owners.”

Much of the complaint centers on contracts that were struck between FAP and Philbrick. Because the contracts were allegedly breached, the complaint states, FAP’s owners have been “deprived” of their artworks and their monetary value.

The complaint hinges on the sale of a Rudolf Stingel work that was auctioned at Christie’s in 2019. A contract submitted with the complaint states that FAP agreed to have Philbrick sell the Stingel work in 2017 and that, unbeknownst to them, he did sell it that year to an “as-yet-to-be-determined offshore entity.” The following year, the lawsuit alleges, Philbrick suggested to FAP that the artwork be consigned to Christie’s, and after FAP said they would need a guarantee in order to do that, Philbrick told them Christie’s had guaranteed the artwork for $9 million. Christie’s sold the work on May 15 for $6.5 million.

When FAP asked for the $9 million they had been guaranteed, Philbrick allegedly told them he’d received the money but had to pay a co-investor. FAP alleges that they subsequently found out from Christie’s there was never a guarantee, that they did not draft or sign the paperwork Philbrick showed to FAP, and that Philbrick hadn’t consigned the work himself. It was consigned by “an offshore entity,” according to the complaint, and they had made no payments to Philbrick.

It is unclear, based on the complaint, whether the Christie’s sale and the inaccuracies portrayed to FAP by Philbrick was what triggered the lawsuit.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Christie’s, which is not named as a defendant in the suit, said, “Christie’s legal department is continuing to gather information concerning this matter, and Christie’s reserves its rights regarding the alleged fraudulent use of Christie’s brand and documentation. In the meantime, Christie’s will cooperate closely with any legal inquiries while it considers next steps.”

A legal representative for FAP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit alleges that, in September, FAP attempted to contact Inigo Philbrick Gallery, only to discover that its physical space in Miami was closed. (The gallery also maintains a London office.) Requests for comment by ARTnews made by email and phone were not answered. The last exhibition listed on the gallery’s website, a two-person outing featuring works by Bridget Riley and Jeff Elrod, closed in August.

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