Halsey Minor isn’t making any new friends in the art world, but he’s making plenty of enemies.
In September, it was widely reported that the auction house Sotheby’s was suing the Internet entrepreneur turned venture investor for refusing to pay for three paintings he purchased in May, including, ironically, “The Peaceable Kingdom,” by renowned American folk painter Edward Hicks.
According to Sotheby’s, Minor initially told the auction house that he hadn’t paid for the works because he was owed money by other parties. Minor, who has countersued, has said he hasn’t paid for the paintings because Sotheby’s didn’t directly disclose to him its financial stake in the sale. (Minor contends he might have bid a distressed asset price otherwise.)
Now peHUB has learned that Minor is taking on another venerable Manhattan-based auction house, Christie’s. Its alleged offense was hampering Minor’s efforts to sell seven Richard Prince paintings by holding on to them for a protracted period this fall, after failing to help him sell the works to two different buyers in summer.
In a suit filed Wednesday in San Francisco, Minor’s attorneys write that “despite insistent and repeated demands for the return of his seven valuable artworks following their consignment,” Minor was “rebuffed,” adding that “instead Christie’s offered a series of shifting excuses and conditions that it demanded be satisfied before the artworks would be returned. Only after Minor threatened legal action did Christie’s drop these spurious excuses and conditions, and unconditionally return the artworks.”
Minor evidently hasn’t decided for how much he is suing. The suit states that “[Minor] has been severely damaged, including as a result of the diminished value of the works, as well as his inability to sell or use as collateral the artworks during their unlawful retention by Christie’s.” It adds that the damage is in a “substantial sum that is not yet presently known.”
I asked Christie’s today why it didn’t return the paintings sooner. Specifically, I asked if Minor owes the auctioneer money through a financing deal or because he’d been advanced money for paintings that sold for less than he had received — two scenarios in which Christie’s would likely keep the paintings as collateral.
After conferring with Christie’s legal department, a spokesman told me only that “Christie’s believes the lawsuit has no merit and will defend our company vigorously.” He also said that Christie’s intends to “sue Mr. Minor for the more than $10 million he owes Christie’s plus related legal fees.”