Earlier this year, New York’s Robert Blumenthal Gallery sued artist Derek Fordjour, accusing him of having failed to honor a deal involving paintings that were allegedly sold to the gallery. Now, Fordjour’s legal team has responded at length to the allegations, repeatedly accusing dealer Robert Blumenthal and his operation of being jealous of Fordjour’s fast rise.
The gallery’s original lawsuit centers around various dealings between Blumenthal and Fordjour, who has only recently achieved stardom. The dealer alleged that he paid $1,000 each for 20 works, for a total of $20,000, and that he received only 13 of them. Blumenthal is now attempting to wrest the remaining seven works from Fordjour or to have the artist pay the gallery $1.45 million.
In response, Fordjour’s legal team filed a motion to dismiss on Thursday, March 19, in the New York State Supreme Court. According to the motion, the artist does not owe Blumenthal any of those seven artworks, as “Fordjour was entitled to terminate the consignment relationship at any time. He has done so.”
“Success often breeds resentment, and there is usually someone who believes they have received less credit than they deserve,” the motion reads. “In this case, that someone is Robert Blumenthal, an art dealer who is demanding that Fordjour give him seven original works created by Fordjour—two paintings and five works on paper—or pay his gallery $1.45 million, which is what he apparently believes he could flip those works for in the market.”
“Mr. Blumenthal’s lawsuit against Mr. Fordjour is meritless,” Maaren Shah, one of Fordjour’s attorneys, said in a statement. “It is a classic example of an art dealer acting in bad faith to exploit an artist at the outset of his career. The law protects against that.”
Mark Seidenfeld, a lawyer representing Robert Blumenthal Gallery, called the new filings an attempt by Fordjour’s lawyers “to revise the facts in a bad faith effort, to smear our client, and to cheat their way into victory,” adding that his client was “a champion and early supporter of Derek Fordjour’s.”
Seidenfeld continued that his client “also gave Derek numerous opportunities to complete his contract, which was between a gallery and artists who were also friends and supporters of each other. Derek has returned that compassion and commitment by turning to lawyers who are attempting to the distort the truth in a misguided attempt to represent their clients. We will forcefully the oppose this bad faith motion.”
The new filing also tears into Robert Blumenthal Gallery for the allegedly “vague” stipulations in its contract. Fordjour’s lawyers write, “What must the works look like? What colors? What figures? What style? Is the Gallery entitled to works in the style that Fordjour painted in 2014, or now, or a new style that he just invented, or none of those? Can Fordjour draw a stick figure on a sheet of paper and satisfy the contract? The purported contract is unenforceable because its vague terms provide no guidance for satisfactory performance.”
Asked to respond to these allegations, Seidenfeld claimed that there was a contradiction between Fordjour’s business and his art, which the lawyer said focuses on themes related to social justice, and added, “The agreement was drafted by Derek. It was an informally written agreement between two men who acted informally, but it was clearly a sale agreement, as their actions over the years confirmed.”
Fordjour’s meteoric rise over the past few years has been due, in part, to a collector base that currently includes celebrities like Drake and the couple Beyoncé and Jay Z, as well as music mogul Troy Carter, who was featured in the ARTnews 2019 50 Collectors to Watch issue. Fordjour is now represented by a trio of notable midsize galleries: Petzel in New York, Night Gallery in Los Angeles, and Josh Lilley Gallery in London. His first major museum survey was running at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis before the institution closed temporarily amid coronavirus concerns.