NEW YORK—On March 2 The Project, a Manhattan gallery, was hit with a judgment of $1.7 million in New York State Supreme Court, stemming from a lawsuit in which collector Jean-Pierre Lehmann had claimed breach of contract.
In mid-January Judge Ira Gammerman ruled in favor of Lehmann, finding that The Project had not lived up to a written agreement that “Lehmann would have right of first refusal on any work by any artist represented by The Project,” the lawsuit stated. The collector had loaned the gallery $75,000 in exchange for access to the works of certain artists at discounted prices (see ANL, 2/1/05). Specifically, Lehmann claimed he would have bought eight works by artist Julie Mehretu had his agreement with The Project been upheld.
On Jan. 12, after a two-day trial, Judge Gammerman issued an oral ruling from the bench that Lehmann had proved his case against The Project, and he asked both sides to submit damage estimates. Lehmann claimed $1,915,000, while the Project offered an assessment of $120,000.
“This is a case that snowballed,” Lehmann’s attorney Peter R. Stern told ARTnewsletter. “We originally asked for $200,000, and they made it worse every step of the way.”
The Project’s attorney Alan Effron indicated the probability of an appeal, based on both the size of the award and on the “facts of liability.” Effron said, “I’m confident this decision will not stand,” noting that “the judge relied on a number of different assumptions, which we believe are erroneous.” These included the valuation of works by the Ethiopian-born Mehretu and the belief that Lehmann “had a right to buy as many Julie Mehretu paintings [as] Lehmann claimed he would have.”
Stern suggested that Lehmann, who holds dual French and Swiss citizenship and maintains homes in Geneva and New York City, may be willing to negotiate a settlement with the gallery that could yet involve his obtaining works by Mehretu.
“Mr. Lehmann’s objective has never been money,” says Stern. “Mr. Lehmann continues to hope that he will become the owner of first-rate paintings by Julie Mehretu. That has been his objective all along.”