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Sale of Abandoned Art Blocked by Artist Who Abandoned It

In a case that seems to prove the old adage that “no good deed shall go unpunished,” the purchasers of the contents of an abandoned locker are being blocked from reselling them by the artist who abandoned it – after they contacted her about returning some of the items.

Brad Daily and Mike Claxton, dba Independence Collection LLC, acquired the contents of an abandoned storage locker at auction in Independence, MO, southwest of Salem.  In the locker were 114 works of art, along with a variety of personal items, including photos, negatives, photo ID cards, and a handwritten journal.  According to Daily and Claxton, they contacted the former owner, artist Tala Madani, who received her BFA in Visual Arts from Oregon State University.  They discussed returning the personal items and some of the more notable paintings.  However, nothing came of their efforts.

In May, Daily and Claxton tried to sell one of Madani’s paintings, estimated at $15,000-20,000, at Phillips Auction Gallery in New York.  Madani blocked the sale, denying the painting was hers, and threatening to sue the Gallery, resulting in the work’s removal from the sale.  Furthermore, Madani’s lawyer threatened to sue if Daily and Claxton attempt to sell any more of the works from the locker.  Madani’s lawyer told them that, even though the works were “largely created by Tala Madani,” she is disclaiming them, and contends that an effort to sell them would be a criminal act.  Her attorney said that Madani will also invoke the federal Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) to block their sale.

However, Carl Crowell, attorney for Messrs. Daily and Claxton, said that law doesn’t apply in this case.  He said VARA only applies when a work is wrongfully attributed or has been changed, distorted or mutilated from its original form.  There has been no allegation by Madani that the works have been changed in any way.  Furthermore, Crowell said he doesn’t doubt that most, if not all, of the paintings from the locker were created by Madani.  He said many of the works are clearly signed by her, and some of the works have been included in gallery shows that Madani herself staged.  “There’s no question many of the works are works she has openly claimed as hers in public showings of her work in the past,” Crowell said.

According to Crowell, his clients remain willing to return Madani’s personal items.  He said they’re not seeking monetary damages from Madani for interfering in their effort to sell the contents of the locker.  Independence Collection’s lawsuit seeks: a declaratory judgment that it owns the 114 paintings, quiet title, and an injunction to keep Madani from interfering with its plans for them.

No trial date has been set.

Source: Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard, August 14 & 15, 2013