In a suit filed in New York Southern District Court on June 9, art historian Marc Restellini alleges that the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports the production of digital catalogues raisonnés and archives, has made copies of and disseminated his research on the artist Amedeo Modigliani without his permission. The French newspaper Le Monde first reported the news.
The suit details Restellini’s expertise and scholarship related to Modigliani, whose life and work he has researched and studied for more than 30 years. As part of his authorship of a Modigliani catalogue raisonné, the art historian “created substantial original material and assembled substantial research material, both of which Restellini owns,” the suit claims. He also gathered “unique archival material that was, and remains, unavailable to anyone else and that Restellini uses by specific permission,” according to the document.
In 1997, the Paris-based Wildenstein Institute—helmed by dealer Guy Wildenstein, who has previously faced charges for tax fraud and money laundering—”offered logistical assistance” to Restellini in his work on the Modigliani catalogue raisonné by way of access to its library, storage facilities, and workspace, and other amenities, according to the suit. Restellini was allegedly under the impression that he would be the sole author of the catalogue raisonné and that he would maintain the rights to his research and archival findings at that time.
Restellini alleges that the Wildenstein Institute transferred materials he owns to the Wildenstein Plattner Institute, an entity launched by Wildenstein in collaboration with collector and technology entrepreneur Hasso Plattner in 2016, without seeking or obtaining his permission. Additionally, the art historian claims in his suit that the Wildenstein Plattner Institute has made and distributed unauthorized copies of his materials, and that it has “announced that it intends to disseminate publicly material that Restellini owns, created, and generated without Restellini’s permission and in violation of Restellini’s rights.”
“Under the guise of its nonprofit status, [the] defendant is trying to pass off Restellini’s life work as its own without any compensation or attribution,” the complaint states. “And [the] defendant has held Restellini’s work, to which it has no valid claim, hostage.”
“As the complaint demonstrates, Mr. Restellini has been working on his pathbreaking catalogue raisonné for more than 25 years,” Daniel Levy, an attorney for Restellini, said in a statement to ARTnews. “He has done that to advance the world’s understanding of Modigliani’s life and artistic legacy in a way that no prior catalogues have done. The purpose of yesterday’s action in court is to ensure that Mr. Restellini, and no one else, controls his intellectual and other property.”
The Wildenstein Plattner Institute did not immediately respond to a request for comment.