Billionaire business mogul Ronald Perelman (pictured above left) and New York City art dealer Larry Gagosian (above right) shocked the art world last week when the two men each filed lawsuits against each other in a spat which sprang up over the purchase of several works of art, including the famous Popeye sculpture from artist Jeff Koons.
The lawsuits filed by Perelman and Gagosian, respectively, were both filed in New York City’s State Supreme Court within hours of each other. In an interview with New York’s The Daily News, art dealer Gagosian claimed that things went sour when Perelman refused to honor an agreed-upon price for a number of pieces of fine art. Gagosian states that when it came time for payment, Perelman tried to insist that Gagosian’s gallery accept works of art of equal value from Perelman’s own private collection as a sort of swap-payment. But the story doesn’t end there. Documents filed in court for Perelman’s suit counter that Gagosian had gone behind his back to negotiate a secret deal with artist Koons to up the price of Koons’ works, thereby boosting profits for the dealer and artist. The secret deal, according to Perelman, would have hindered his efforts to resell “Popeye” for a profit, nullifying any return on his initial investment.
The artist at the center of the controversy, Jeff Koons, is renowned for his post-modern reproduction of banal objects in stainless steel mirrored surfaces. Koons’ works regularly fetch record-breaking profits at auction; in 2008, the artist’s work Balloon Flower (Magenta) sold for over $25 million, at the time a world record price for a piece of art created by a living artist.
The lawsuit filings came as a shock not only to the art world but to friends of Perelman and Gagosian. The two men were known to be close friends, with renowned art dealer Gagosian advising Perelman on purchases when the billionaire set out to begin collecting art. The two men even became partners in the purchase of the Blue Parrot restaurant, located in the Hamptons. Haute Lawyer will follow the case as it unfolds.