NEW YORK—An art gallery in Mumbai has filed a lawsuit against Christie’s for breach of contract and deceptive practices, alleging that the auction house refuses to deliver 29 works of art and antiquities for which the gallery had paid more than $800,000, and that it threatened to resell the works. The suit, filed on Nov. 19 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claims that the artworks were purchased by Osian’s Connoisseurs of Art at five Christie’s auctions in New York and London between September 2007 and September of last year and paid for over a period of 18 months, which ended last May. Osian’s complaint alleges that Christie’s is illegally retaining the artworks “in order to coerce Osian’s to answer for the debt of a third party.”
In a statement, Christie’s officials said the suit is “completely meritless. We have been seeking to recover a significant debt from an Osian-related party for more than one year. Christie’s intends to review all of its legal remedies in response to these baseless allegations.” According to the complaint, Christie’s said it was keeping the objects in lieu of payment owed for purchases by Bregawn Jersey Ltd., a Jersey corporation, which has ties to Osian through Neville Tuli, an officer of both companies. Tuli bought works at the house for both companies, said a source close to Christie’s, who told ARTnewsletter Tuli “wore multiple caps, and it is hard to divide which purchases were for what.” ARTnewsletter was unable to reach Tuli for comment.
The dispute over Bregawn’s debt to Christie’s has been going on for more than a year, punctuated by periodic threats by the auction house to sell the 29 pieces, according to the suit. “As you are well aware, we have commenced the process of offering property that you have previously purchased, and paid for, in our upcoming auction,” Arlene Kick, vice president and client-account director at Christie’s, wrote in an e-mail to Tuli on Feb. 28, according to the complaint. (The pieces have not been included in subsequent sales.)
Rishi Bhandari, the New York–based lawyer for Osian’s, declined to comment on the suit, noting only that his “client is trying to get this resolved through the legal system quickly.”