Artist Howardena Pindell is suing her former gallery, alleging that it has not given her accurate information about sales.
In a lawsuit filed in January in the Southern District Court of New York, Pindell alleges that the N’Namdi family and their associated enterprises—commercial galleries in several American cities—provided “misleading and inaccurate” information about sales of her work in an attempt to serve her former gallery’s “self-interest.” She is seeking at least $500,000 in damages and the return of various artworks.
By “operating through a maze of business entities,” the lawsuit claims, G. R. N’Namdi Gallery obfuscated information about the sales of artworks over a years-long period, allegedly offering works at steep discounts and concealing other details about purchases. The lawsuit goes on to claim that Pindell, like many of her African-American colleagues that have shown alongside her at N’Namdi, is underrepresented in art history, and that the gallery “took advantage” of them because of it.
Barbara Hoffman, Pindell’s lawyer, told ARTnews that the artist has recently received wider recognition—which makes her unlike her peers who showed at the gallery. “Now, she’s in a position where she can take them on on behalf of herself and these artists who she felt were wronged by them,” Hoffman said.
Pindell’s work has seen a surge in interest in recent years, after appearances in major critically acclaimed museum shows such as “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” and “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85.” A touring retrospective of her work first opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2018, and she recently joined the roster of Victoria Miro, one of London’s top galleries, which now represents her alongside New York’s Garth Greenan Gallery.
Before achieving such widespread recognition, however, Pindell—who is known for abstractions made in an array of mediums, most notably her process-based paintings made using a hole punch during the 1970s—had nine solo shows at G. R. N’Namdi Gallery locations in Detroit, New York, Chicago, and Birmingham, Michigan. Those shows were staged between 1987 and 2006. According to the lawsuit, after that period, the gallery failed to make payments on time and did not properly disclose when works sold, the prices for which they had been bought, when discounts were made, and who owned the pieces.
As part of Pindell’s suit, she is seeking the return of 20 works that are allegedly in the possession of G. R. N’Namdi Gallery. Among them are 12 works from Pindell’s “Autobiography” series, one of her most famous bodies of work, which synthesizes the artist’s personal history with conflicts and legacies of colonialism and racism impacting the world. The suit also demands the return of three Pindell works that were allegedly bought from the gallery by Texas-based collector Arthur Primas, who is listed as a defendant as well.
“Our clients have great respect for Ms. Pindell as an artist and are proud to have been able to help her with her career,” Peter D. Raymond, a lawyer representing the N’Namdi family members and their businesses, said in a statement to ARTnews. “However, while they are sorry that their relationship has come to this, they believe the claims in this lawsuit are meritless, and they intend to vigorously defend this case.”
G. R. N’Namdi Gallery was first established in 1981 in Detroit, and has since accrued a reputation for showing work by African-American artists producing abstractions, among them Ed Clark, Al Loving, and Jack Whitten. In 2005, the gallery was hit with a similar suit to Pindell’s after Loving’s wife accused G. R. N’Namdi Gallery of withholding funds and obscuring details related to the sales of his work. In 2008, that lawsuit was settled.
Hoffman said that the lawsuit is indicative of Pindell’s determined spirit. “She’s worked so hard,” Hoffman said. “She’s never stopped working, and she’s never given up.”