NEW YORK—For the second time in three years, luxury-goods maker Louis Vuitton has been sued in a Los Angeles district court for a line of prints by Japanese Pop artist Takashi Murakami that the company produced and sold at a museum exhibition of the artist’s work.
The most recent complaint was filed on June 9 by Jeffrey Kaplan of Palm Springs and Charles Doell of Oakland, who separately purchased prints by Murakami for $6,000 apiece. They are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit, alleging that Louis Vuitton violated California’s Fine Prints Act by providing incomplete and incorrect information on a certificate of authenticity that is required to accompany limited edition art prints. The Los Angeles attorney representing Louis Vuitton, Mark Neubauer, declined to comment.
The claims stemmed from a retrospective exhibition of the work of Murakami at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) from Oct. 2007-Feb. 2008, which included a Louis Vuitton boutique featuring limited edition handbags (priced between $875 and $920) and various leather accessories that bore designs by the artist. The artist has been associated with the Paris-based maker of luxury wallets, belts, handbags and luggage since 2002, and the exhibition included both original pieces by Murakami and those made in association with Louis Vuitton.
Among the items sold in the boutique were various leather and canvas accessories, as well as 500 canvas prints based on the textile designs the artist had produced as variations of the Louis Vuitton logo, selling for $6,000 and $10,000 depending upon whether the prints were the first or second 50 in the five separate limited editions. The prints themselves were cut sections of the canvas material used to make the handbags.
Neither the museum nor the artist were named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Maxwell M. Blecher, the lawyer representing Kaplan and Doell in their claims, told ARTnewsletter, “our best research has indicated that 214 prints have been sold.”
The lawsuit was filed as a class action, since “at least more than 100 persons and entities dispersed throughout the United States” are alleged to have purchased Murakami prints from the Louis Vuitton boutique during the period in which the retrospective took place, according to the complaint. “The certificates of authenticity were deficient in terms of what the law requires,” Blecher said, adding that the prints were “not fine art at all.”
The defendants allege that total damages may reach $7 million, based on the price of the sold prints, plus triple damages on that amount under state law. An earlier lawsuit, filed in 2009 and later settled, was brought by Los Angeles collector Clint Arthur, alleging fraud on the part of Louis Vuitton since the prints were cut from the same material as the mass-produced Murakami-designed handbags rather than original works of art. The judge in that case, A. Howard Matz, ruled that there was no fraud (Arthur was reimbursed for the price of the two prints he purchased, plus interest on that amount) but indicated that Louis Vuitton might have violated the state’s Fine Prints Act. According to information in the most recent claim by Doell and Kaplan, Arthur’s “action was settled and dismissed with prejudice on Dec. 1, 2010.”
California was the first state to regulate the sale of fine-art prints, in 1971, and further amended the law in 1988 to require the sellers of prints in the state to provide a certificate of authenticity.