In-Demand Artist Derek Fordjour Just Got Slapped With a Lawsuit by a Dealer Who Says He Paid for Paintings, But Never Got Them

The complaint alleges that dealer Robert Blumenthal bought 20 works from Fordjour for $20,000, but only ever received 13 of them.

Artist Derek Fordjour. Photo: © Kaitlyn Flanagan, courtesy of the Sugarhill Museum.

Artist Derek Fordjour is being sued by one of his former art dealers, who alleges he reneged on a deal to deliver 20 paintings in exchange for $20,000. The much-buzzed-about painter’s work is a hot commodity: the artist created a mural for the Whitney Museum in 2018, and his collectors include Drake, Beyonce, and Jay Z.

According to the complaint, filed by the Robert Blumenthal Gallery on February 4 in New York State Supreme Court, Blumenthal visited the artist’s studio in 2014 and “recognized that Fordjour possessed an artistic vision and that he could become a successful artist.” Blumenthal “set out to foster Fordjour’s career, providing gallery representation and financial support.”

The complaint alleges that the artist said he was in need of funds and proposed a sale of 20 artworks to Blumenthal. At the time, only a few works had ever sold, at prices around $2,000, and Fordjour proposed a discounted price of $1,000 per artwork. Blumenthal agreed, paying the artist $20,000, according to the court documents.

Over the next several years, the artist delivered 13 of the 20 promised works, “but he has failed and refused to deliver the balance of the artwork despite repeated requests that he do so,” according to the complaint.

“I didn’t want to commence legal action against Derek, but I have no choice because the statute of limitations on our contract runs out on July 2,” Blumenthal told Artnet News via email. “I prepaid for 20 works 6 years ago, and it’s his responsibility to honor our agreement and deliver the remaining 7 pieces.”

Robert Blumenthal, photo: Nicholas Hunt © Patrick McMullan.

Robert Blumenthal, photo: Nicholas Hunt © Patrick McMullan.

The complaint further alleges that the gallery agreed to lend Fordjour $10,000 in August 2014 to cover costs associated with an installation the artist wanted to mount “an unrelated Brooklyn gallery.” (The artist’s CV lists a show titled “The Big Game” at the now-closed Storefront Ten Eyck Gallery.)

Blumenthal also gave the artist a show in November 2014, describing it as “a costly immersive installation” that included moving dirt, a live tree, and other mixed media. Blumenthal says he invested roughly $20,000.

“This case is a classic example of someone who held himself out to be a dealer trying to exploit an artist at the outset of his career,” Maaren Shah, Fordjour’s lawyer, said in a statement to Artnet News. “Mr. Fordjour has always acted in good faith with respect to Mr. Blumenthal and fully expects to prevail in this lawsuit.”

Fordjour is currently represented by Petzel Gallery in New York, Josh Lilley Gallery in London, and Night Gallery in Los Angeles. His works on paper now sell for $250,000 each, while paintings sell in the neighborhood of $100,000, according to the complaint. Acording to the Art Newspaper, at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2018, Lilley sold out his booth of works by Fordjour.

None of his current dealers responded to requests for comment from Artnet News.

“Simply put, Defendant’s star has risen,” the complaint states. According to the Artnet Price Database, the current auction record for a work by the artist is $169,293, set in October 2019 at Phillips London, for Green Horn (2017).

Blumenthal wants the court to decide on breach of contract, injunctive relief, and unjust enrichment. For the latter claim, he is seeking at least $1.45 million.

Blumenthal’s attorney, Mark Seidenfeld, told Artnet News: “Robert Blumenthal supported Derek Fordjour as both a gallerist and a friend. He believed in Derek’s work and vision and took chances, risking time, money, and reputation, to give Derek the chance Robert thought he deserved.”

This is not Blumenthal’s first lawsuit against an artist. According to the Art Newspaper, in 2015, after he was sued by painter Dean Levin for allegedly not paying the artist for works Blumenthal had sold, the dealer filed a counter claim for $300,000.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.