In a legal claim filed in London’s High Court earlier this month, artist Frank Bowling, whose work has seen a new level of interest, thanks to recent exhibitions at the Haus der Kunst in Munich and Tate Britain in London, alleged that Hales Gallery owes him a significant sum of money. He also accuses the gallery, which no longer represents him, of withholding more than 100 of his paintings. In response, Hales has accused members of Bowling’s immediate family of having ruined his relationship with the gallery in an attempt co-opt his legacy.
“The feeling that they had taken advantage of me is reinforced by the extraordinary demands they are now making for vast sums of money, while holding to ransom my own paintings,” Bowling said in a statement sent to ARTnews. “I’ve been a practicing artist for more than sixty years, and while I am grateful to all those who have supported me in my journey to recognition, my art works and personal toil speak for my success.”
Hales Gallery, which has spaces in London and New York, first began showing Bowling’s art in 2011. According to the claim, which was filed in London on August 18, Bowling terminated his relationship with the gallery in October 2019 because of “serious breaches” of the gallery’s agreement with him.
Bowling’s claim goes on to allege that more than 100 works by Bowling are being withheld and that the artist is owed £1.8 million ($2.4 million) in funds related to sales of his work. Bowling’s lawyer, Tim Bignell, claimed in the filing that the paintings being held by Hales are worth £14 million ($18.5 million). While the claim states that Bowling “believes them to be in Hales Gallery’s storage in London and New York,” it does not specify which works are allegedly being kept away from him.
“Regrettably, Hales Gallery has sought, and continues, to try to resist Mr Bowling’s claim in its entirety,” the suit alleges.
A representative for Hales Gallery did not respond to ARTnews’s request for comment.
The Evening Standard reported earlier this week that Bowling is being countersued by Hales Gallery, which has alleged that the 86-year-old artist’s sons launched a “concerted campaign” to sour the enterprise’s relationship with Bowling and his wife Rachel Scott. According to the countersuit, the artist’s sons, Ben and Sacha, had tried to “wrestle control” of Bowling’s legacy.
Bowling denied these claims in his statement, saying that they “misrepresent in the nastiest way my personal situation and family life.”
Bowling, who was born in 1937 in British Guiana and is based in London and New York, is known for semi-abstract paintings that allude to histories of colonialism. During the 1960s and ’70s, he made his most well-known series, known as the “Map Paintings,” which feature forms resembling continents transposed onto color fields. In 1971, Bowling wrote a now-famous essay for ARTnews called “It’s Not Enough to Say ‘Black Is Beautiful,’” which focuses the double standards facing Black artists of the era.
The artist’s work has seen a critical revival, thanks in part to appearances in major shows such as “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963 – 1983,” which originated at Tate Modern in 2017 and continues to travel to venues around the world. He is currently represented by New York’s Alexander Gray Associates gallery and Los Angeles’s Marc Selwyn Fine Art.
The claims made in Bowling’s action recall ones voiced in a lawsuit filed in New York earlier this year by artist Howardena Pindell, whose work has sometimes been shown in the same contexts as Bowling’s art. Pindell filed suit against the N’Namdi family, whose galleries formerly showed her work, and she alleged that, by “operating through a maze of business entities,” its members were able to obscure information about the sales of her art.