Will Picasso Litigation Force Gagosian to Reveal His $100 Million Mystery Buyer?

The art world is abuzz about who it could be.

Larry Gagosian. Courtesy of David Crotty, © Patrick McMullan.

Picasso Bust of a Woman (Marie Therese) (1931) is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art.

Will the legal fight over a $100 million Picasso ultimately reveal the mystery buyer?

A noteworthy aspect of the current battle between Gagosian Gallery and a representative for the Qatari royal family—the latter of whom says it rightfully purchased the sculpture in 2014 for about $42 million—is the demand for “testimonial and document discovery” from Larry Gagosian and Picasso’s granddaughter Diana Widmaier-Picasso about their roles in a subsequent $100 million-plus sale transacted this past spring.

If the detailed, multi-year access being sought by Pelham Europe—which is run by Christie’s former Impressionist and modern department head Guy Bennett—is ultimately realized, the name of Gagosian’s presumably billionaire buyer could be made public. According to legal documents, this third-party “mystery” buyer is ready to swoop in and pick up his or her new prize as soon as the Picasso show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where it is currently on display—ends on February 7.

Neither Gagosian nor his attorney responded to artnet News’ request for comment. Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, which is representing Pelham Europe, also declined to comment.

Larry Gagosian. Image: ©Patrick McMullan. David Crotty/PatrickMcMullan

Larry Gagosian.
Image: ©Patrick McMullan. David Crotty/PatrickMcMullan.

The prospect of this type of client confidentiality breach clearly has rattled Gagosian, however. In a December 8 filing in the Southern District of New York, an opposition he filed says if the court is persuaded to grant Pelham’s request for information “the proposed subpoena to Mr. Gagosian should be drastically modified…”

It continues: “Pelham seeks information concerning a transaction between [Gagosian] and a third party who agreed to purchase the work from [Gagosian]. This request is of particular concern because [Gagosian] is contractually bound under the purchase agreement [he] signed with the third party buyer not to reveal the purchase price, or other terms of the sale, such as the buyer’s identity.”

Gagosian further reiterated these claims in a legal complaint filed in Southern District Court on January 12 where the gallery is named as plaintiff and Pelham Europe is a defendant.  According to the complaint, Gagosian Gallery is seeking “a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against Pelham Europe as well as for an order quieting title to property located in this District.”

Of course, the art world is buzzing about who the mystery buyer could be. One name that immediately popped up is former hedge fund manager Steve Cohen, a frequent Gagosian client who owns a number of important Picasso paintings and has spent large sums on other blue chip sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, including $141 million for Pointing Man (1947) at Christie’s this past May and $101 million on Chariot (1950) in November 2014 at Sotheby’s.

Billionaire Lily Safra, who also dropped more than $100 million on a Giacometti life size bronze Walking Man I  in 2010, is also being eyed as a possible buyer.

The reported purchase price of “well over $100 million,” according to legal documents is far higher than the current auction record for a Picasso sculpture—$29.2 million for Tête de femme (Dora Maar) (1941) at Sotheby’s in November 2007.

Earlier in his opposition memo, Gagosian called Pelham’s request for information “part of a desperate attempt to enforce an unconscionable agreement with an elderly woman in poor health,” a reference to the earlier deal struck with Picasso’s daughter Maya Widmaier-Picasso. That deal was brokered on her side through the now defunct advisory firm Connery, Pissarro, Seydoux.

According to Pelham’s memorandom of law filed in the Southern District of New York this past November, the discovery is linked to “two concurrently pending foreign proceedings.” The first case is pending in Switzerland, and deals with “Widmaier-Picasso’s breach of the Sale Agreement,” while the second is a contempt proceeding pending in Paris “arising out of Widmaier-Picasso’s apparent breach of a Writ of Seizure.” In the second case, “Pelham alleges that Widmaier-Picasso violated the writ by disposing of the Sculpture.”

Both parties must submit documents concerning the sale to the Southern District in Manhattan by February 29. Further depositions related to the case must be concluded by April 1.

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