An Art Collector Is Suing His Former Attorney For Allegedly Stealing a $5 Million Andy Warhol Painting
Stuart Pivar sold the painting to his lawyer for $100,000, then wanted to buy it back for $150,000. The attorney refused.
The New York art collector Stuart Pivar has filed a lawsuit against his lawyer for allegedly stealing an Andy Warhol painting after an unconventional deal.
The complaint, filed April 17 in New York Supreme Court, says that Pivar sold a 1977 Warhol painting of himself—Portrait of Stuart Pivar—last year to his one-time attorney, Mitchell Cantor. The lawyer paid $100,000 for the piece, despite Pivar estimating it to be worth $5 million.
When contacted by Artnet News, Pivar explained that he needed fast cash at the time, but could not recall why: “I needed it for something very, very important, whatever the heck it was.”
Included in the agreement with Cantor, according to the lawsuit, was a clause that would allow Pivar to buy the painting back for $150,000 within 180 days of the original sale. But when Pivar went to pick up the artwork last month, Cantor said it was gone.
Cantor’s actions “constitute professional negligence and malpractice of the worst kind,” the complaint concludes.
“It was, of course, a stupid thing to do,” Pivar said of the deal.
Pivar, now in his 90s, was a longtime friend of Andy Warhol, with whom he and others co-founded the New York Academy of Art in 1980. Warhol painted his portrait of Pivar in 1977, and the collector owned the artwork for decades before selling it to Cantor.
With this month’s lawsuit, Pivar is seeking $10 million in damages from the attorney. He arrived at the number based on Sotheby’s recent sale of Warhol’s 1980 portrait of Blondie frontwoman Debbie Harry for £6,599,300 ($8 million) in London.
“I think my portrait is twice as good,” he said. “That’s the brilliant logic behind this entire thing.” Pivar is representing himself in the case.
In an email to Artnet News, Cantor explained that he stopped working with Pivar “well before” the two men struck up a deal around the Warhol portrait. The lawyer declined to comment on the current location of the painting.
“Pivar’s claims are both delusional and internally inconsistent,” Cantor said, adding that his former client “has done this before as well.”
Indeed, Pivar has drawn headlines in recent years for a string of improbable lawsuits. In 2019, he sued another lawyer, John McFadden, for allegedly tricking him into selling a Constantin Brancusi bronze for just $100,000. He sought $200 million in damages.
In 2020, Pivar sued Sotheby’s for $2 billion after the auction house banned the collector from bidding, buying, or selling through the company. The suit was later dismissed in court.
A similar suit followed the next year, when Pivar filed a complaint against the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam for refusing to authenticate a painting. That case, too, was dismissed.
Pivar has also come under fire for his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, who he has described as his “best pal for decades.” In a long and unsettling 2019 interview with Mother Jones, the collector weighed in on Epstein’s crimes and said he witnessed the man sexually harass multiple young women.
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