New York City art dealer Marc Jancou has filed a lawsuit against both Sotheby’s and the artist Cady Noland, arising from a consignment Jancou made to Sotheby’s of Noland’s Cowboys Milking (1990). One day prior to the sale in which the painting was scheduled to sell, the auction house withdrew it without explanation. This withdrawal proved particularly painful for Jancou, as another of Noland’s paintings–Oozewald (1989)–sold for an unprecedented $6.6 million at Sotheby’s one day before it removed Cowboys Milking. Oozewald was only expected to bring $3 million, but the sale set a new record for work at an auction by a living female painter. Jancou now argues that he is owed $26 million in damages–$6 million from Sotheby’s for breach of contract and $20 million from Noland. Incidentally, Noland’s Cowboys Milking is valued between $250-350,ooo.
News of the lawsuit was released through the Baer Faxt newsletter, which reported that Noland had recently disavowed the work, causing Sotheby’s to withdraw the consignment at the last minute. Although Jancou’s complaint does not specifically mention this fact, it does state that Noland “tortiously interfered” with Jancou’s consignment agreement with Sotheby’s, by forcing them to pull the piece. Artists such as Richard Prince and Felix Gonzalez-Torres have also disavowed prior works in the past, leaving gallerists, museums, dealers, and auction houses to grapple with the consequences of these decisions.
For its part, Sotheby’s regards the lawsuit as “meritless.” Relying on standards printed in each auction catalogue, its ‘Conditions of Sale’ stipulate that the auction house reserves the right to withdraw any property before sale without any liability for the withdrawal.
Love our work? Please make a donation today to advance the study and dissemination of art law.
From copyright and contract law to immigration law, authenticity issues, and Nazi-era looted art, the Center for Art Law offers training opportunities to artists, attorneys, students, and scholars to further protect art and cultural heritage.