Twitter’s Ex-CEO Is Facing Off With Artist Neighbor Dorothea Rockburne After a Bathroom Leak Allegedly Damaged Her Life’s Work

Costolo's lawyers are demanding reams of paperwork from Rockburne, including prices for previously sold artworks.

Richard Costolo in Lisbon Portugal at a 2018 Web Summit. Photo by Horacio Villalobos - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images
Richard Costolo in Lisbon Portugal at a 2018 Web Summit. Photo by Horacio Villalobos - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

Former Twitter C.E.O. Richard “Dick” Costolo and his wife, Lorin, have come out swinging in an ongoing lawsuit launched by artist Dorothea Rockburne after an alleged flood caused by a leak in the couple’s SoHo apartment in January damaged more than 150 of her artworks stored in her loft directly below.

Rockburne, an abstract painter whose math and astronomy-inspired work is currently on long-term view at Dia Beacon, filed a complaint in New York Supreme Court in early June seeking roughly $2 million: $1.3 million for “irreparably damaged” artworks and as much as $576,000 for the conservation of objects that can possibly be repaired, which Rockburne says she cannot afford on her own.

On July 14, the Costolos filed a 29-page response with extensive demands for detailed information, ranging from the names and addresses of “each person you expect to call to give expert testimony” and “reasonable detail” regarding the subject matter on which each will speak.

The Costolos also made a separate demand for Rockburne to produce within 20 days “any and all photographs and video recordings in your possession, custody, or control depicting the scene of the alleged occurrence” as well as defects or conditions alleged to have contributed to the damage of her artwork.

Dorothea Rockburne attends the Guild Hall Academy of the Arts Achievement Awards at the Rainbow Room on March 3, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Dorothea Rockburne attends the Guild Hall Academy of the Arts Achievement Awards at the Rainbow Room on March 3, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

The most extensive of the numerous demands asks for “claims, notes, internal memoranda, correspondence, damage adjuster and/or appraisal reports, engineering reports, invoices, receipts, [and] proof of loss.”

Neither Rockburne’s nor the Costolos’ attorneys responded immediately to Artnet News’s requests for comment.

According to The Real Deal, the Costolos bought the apartment on Grand Street in downtown Manhattan in May 2020 for $8 million.

According to Rockburne’s complaint, around January 25, a “flooding event” occurred in the Costolos’ home, which Rockburne’s apartment is directly below. Rockburne alleges that Dick Costolo was informed of the flood, which began around 8 a.m. that morning, by 1 p.m. the same day.

The facade of 138 Grand Street in Soho. Image via DouglasElliman.com

The facade of 138 Grand Street in Soho. Image via DouglasElliman.com

Rockburne’s complaint asserts that Costolo “refused to allow repairs which would have ended the leak that caused the flood until a plumber of his choosing was available to address the cause of the flood.” It alleges that Costolo’s plumber did not arrive to “address the cause” of the flood until about 5:30 p.m.

“As a result of Richard Costolos’s refusal to allow repairs which would have ended the leak that caused the flood, the flood lasted an additional four to five hours longer than necessary,” according to the complaint. Rockburne says 176 of her artworks were damaged or destroyed in her loft, where she keeps objects dating back to 1952.

Notably, according to correspondence cited by Rockburne in her complaint, it appears Costolo was initially prepared to assume at least some responsibility.

Partial list of damaged works. Image via Supreme Court Records Online.

Partial list of damaged works. Image via Supreme Court Records Online.

In an email to Rockburne, Costolo said a friend had used the shower in his apartment, thus beginning the flood.

He “acknowledged responsibility,” Rockburne’s complaint says, and allegedly told her: “Let me know if there’s anything in your place that needs repair… I’ll make sure [the shower] is fully sealed before it is used again.” In a later email, Costolo wrote: “Keep us posted and sincere apologies.”

But things took a turn when Rockburne’s attorney, John Koegel, provided the Costolos with a conservator’s report and estimate of the damages for an insurance claim.

Rockburne says Koegel got a reply from Steven Bundschuh, an attorney for the Costolos, in April, saying he had been appointed by the insurance company Chubb to represent the couple and to “assist in the investigation of the cause of the loss.”

Bundschuh told Koegel the couple would consult their own experts about whether an inspection of the damaged work would be required “before restoration begins.” He subsequently requested in an email all records pertaining to studio and gallery sales of the works, and photographic documentation of the restoration process, and later said that Chubb, on behalf of the Costolos, “denied liability for the flood and any damage to plaintiff caused by the flood.” 

Rockburne’s works have been shown at MoMA, the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum, among other institutions. 

The Artnet Price Database lists 123 auction results for her work. The highest price achieved is $93,750 for Oxymoron, a geometric painting dated 1987–88 that sold at Phillips New York in November 2019.


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