NEW YORK—The legal wrangling between Manhattan gallery owner Christian Haye and a disgruntled financial backer, Jean-Pierre Lehmann, entered a new stage last month as the gallery The Project was closed in the wake of a March 2 judgment of $1.7 million in New York State Supreme Court—then immediately reopened at the same 57th Street address, with the same personnel and artists but with a new name, Projectile.
The Project “did not file for bankruptcy; it just stopped doing business,” gallery attorney Gregory Clarick told ARTnewsletter. “The Project was unable to keep up as a business after the lawsuit.”
Operating as a new business, however, the gallery would be able to function without the threat of a $1.7 million debt. As part of his legal action, Lehmann had frozen the assets of The Project, which consisted of a bank account (“there wasn’t a substantial amount of money there,” Clarick stated) and office furniture but no art.
The gallery did not own any of the art it sold. Rather, it held works on consignment, and, states New York State law, creditors are not entitled to a prior lien on artwork consigned to galleries. “The business is closed, and Lehmann would get nothing, maybe some desks and computers,” Clarick said.
The dispute between Lehmann and The Project arose in late 2003, two years after he had made a $75,000 loan to the gallery, expecting to be repaid through gaining head-of-the-line rights to purchase the works of artist Julie Mehretu at discounted prices (see ANL, 3/15/05).
Lehmann didn’t get as many of the artist’s works as he had hoped, so he brought a breach-of-contract lawsuit against The Project that he won. However, the suit likely will be appealed some time before the year’s end.
The new gallery is a partnership of Haye and of Jenny Liu and Simon Preston—both former employees of The Project. The new entity has no financial backers. “We are our own backers,” Preston told ARTnewsletter. On May 5 Projectile opened a new show of Mehretu’s works on paper that runs through June 18.
“Changing the gallery’s name and nothing else” will not keep Lehmann from seeking to enforce the court’s judgment, counters the plaintiff’s attorney Peter R. Stern. “The court will decide if it will buy the new company argument.” Stern told ARTnewsletter he expects a decision on that point by summertime.