Reclusive Photographer Vivian Maier Is Subject of New Lawsuit Over Sales of Her Work

The city of Chicago, representing the late photographer's estate, claims serious chicanery on the other side.

Woman at the NY Public Library from John Maloof and Charlie Siskel’s Finding Vivian Maier. Photo: Vivian Maier, courtesy of the Maloof Collection.

The life of nanny and secret photographer Vivian Maier has been the subject of fascination ever since the release of the documentary Finding Vivian Maier, in 2014. That film’s debut led to a conflict over who rediscovered the late photographer, who died in 2009 without a will and with no known heirs.

Now, opposing claims about who represents Maier’s estate are subject of a new lawsuit. The photographer, a New York native, worked as a nanny in Chicago for much of her life. Her photographs, which gained notice only after her death, could be worth astronomical amounts.

Maier’s estate, represented by Chicago firm Marshall, Gerstein & Borun, has sued Jeffrey Goldstein, a dealer who they say was exhibiting and selling the work of the photographer. Goldstein, according to a suit filed on Thursday, hawked Maier merchandise despite having no official sanction to do so.

The suit, filed in a US District Court, outlines a saga alleging that Goldstein offloaded holdings of about 17,000 negatives to Toronto’s Stephen Bulger Gallery in an attempt to circumvent US law—all while negotiating with David A. Epstein, the Cook County Public Administrator, who administers Maier’s estate.

Over the course of peddling Maier’s works, Goldstein was allegedly selling them for as much as $4,500 at venues including Steven Kasher Gallery in New York, the Basil Hallward Gallery in Portland, Oregon, and the Galleria Cons Arc in Chicasso, Switzerland. By 2012, the suit says he was taking home annual revenues in the range of $500,000.

The suit asserts that Goldberg started to collect Maier’s prints from the collector Randy Prow, gradually expanding his holdings to about 15 percent of Maier’s output: some 20,000 prints,1,700 color negatives, 300 rolls of undeveloped film, and dozens of movie reels, and other Maieriana.

Goldstein and the estate aren’t the only ones battling it out. Collector John Maloof started to buy up Maier’s prints and photographs at a storage auction in 2007 for a few hundred dollars. Maloof co-directed Finding Vivian Maier with Charlie Siskel, and claims to be the photographer’s main exponent.

Goldstein could not immediately be reached for comment.

UPDATE, July 21: This story has been updated to reflect an amended complaint, filed June 28, that reflects an updated list of galleries with whom Goldstein is alleged to have done business.

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