Franz West Archive Wins Back Rights to Images and Furniture Production

The Franz West Foundation lost out.

Franz West in 2009. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In the long-running legal battle over the estate of the artist Franz West, the Austrian Supreme Court has ruled that the transfer of assets from the Franz West Archive to the Franz West Foundation was unlawful. The court reached its verdict at the end of March and the written ruling took effect last week.

Both the Franz West Archive and the Franz West Private Foundation have laid claim to the artist’s multi-million dollar estate, which has been subject to multiple lawsuits since the artist’s death in 2012.

West founded the Vienna-based Franz West Private Foundation only five days before his death, effectively diverting all royalties, copyrights, and assets away from his family and the non-profit Franz West Archive, founded in 2000 to handle the artist’s estate. Since the artist’s death, the Archive has been trying to regain control by launching several lawsuits against the foundation and the dealers it works with, including Gagosian Gallery.

Franz WestFour works: (i) Untitled, (ii) Untitled, (iii) Untitled, (iv) Untitled (2001-02) sold at Phillips this past May for $43,750. Image: Courtesy of Phillips.

Franz WestFour works: (i) Untitled, (ii) Untitled, (iii) Untitled, (iv) Untitled (2001-02) sold at Phillips in May 2015 for $43,750. Courtesy of Phillips.

Now the Supreme Court in Vienna ruled that the transfer of assets from the Franz West Archive to the Private Foundation was invalid, because it would have required a so-called letter of acceptance.

According to the Austrian daily Der Standard, the ruling has far-reaching consequences because it stipulates the retroactive transfer of all image rights and the rights to the production and distribution of ten pieces of in-demand West-designed furniture to the Archive.

In response to the ruling, the Foundation is reportedly evaluating the filing of an appeal with the European Court of Justice.

The artist succumbed to cancer at the age of 44. Photo: video still via Vimeo

The artist Tamuna Sirbiladze, Franz West’s widow, succumbed to cancer in March at the age of 44. Photo: video still via Vimeo

Meanwhile, a separate but concurrent case between the Franz West Private Foundation and the heirs to West’s fortune remains unresolved. An imminent settlement between the heirs and the Private Foundation was cut short in March by the untimely death of West’s widow, the artist Tamuna Sirbiladze.

Speaking to artnet News on the phone, Christoph Kerres, the attorney representing West and Sirbiladze’s two children, said that a court will come to a decision on May 18. The family is seeking at least half of West’s estate.

After Sirbiladze’s death, The Art Newspaper reported that the battle has extended to the secondary market, with the authenticity of some works in private hands rejected by the Archive. Meanwhile, the Foundation, which is currently compiling West’s catalogue raisoné, called on collectors to bring unauthenticated work to them. “[The foundation is] happy to examine each work by Franz West and ask collectors to contact us,” Ines Turian, the director of the Franz West Private Foundation, told TAN.


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