Ron Perelman vs. the Whole ‘Ugly’ Art Market

Ron Perelman in 2014. Photo by Jimi Celeste, courtesy of Patrick McMullan.

Since billionaire Ronald Perelman sued Larry Gagosian, and vice versa, the two have been quiet about their legal scuffle, until now.

“Art is such a beautiful thing,” Mr. Perelman told the New York Times in his first interview about the topic. “But it’s been sullied by an ugly business. It needs to be fixed.”

The leveraged buyout artist sued Gagosian and his gallery in September 2012 claiming that they took advantage of him, hid crucial information, and distorted prices, and that Perelman lost money in a chain of transactions involving nearly a dozen works of art and more than $45 million. At the heart of the suit was the value of Jeff Koons’s Popeye, an unfinished sculpture that Perelman purchased from the dealer for $4 million. Also at issue is the worth of eight more works that Perelman used to partly pay for a Cy Twombly painting and a Richard Serra sculpture.

While Gagosian did not speak for the above article, his lawyer Matthew S. Dontzin said in a statement that Perelman’s “disingenuous claims that he is a crusader are nothing more than a cover for the fact that he is a notorious bully with a well-known history of filing meritless litigations, who once again won’t pay what’s owed.”

In August, in relation to the case, Perelman subpoenaed Jose Mugrabi, along with his sons Alberto and David. The Mugrabis are a family of collectors and art dealers who have had dealings with Gagosian over the years.

Perelman has also subpoenaed auction houses Sotheby’s and Phillips, and has enlisted the help of a former F.B.I. agent with some art world savvy to question collectors and dealers.

Perelman and Gagosian had been friends for some 20 years, had been guests in each others’ homes, and had invested together in an East Hampton restaurant. Though Gagosian helped Perelman amass an extensive collection of postwar and contemporary art, and Perelman once called the dealer “the most charming guy in the world,” Perelman now aims to expose the art world’s “dirty” underbelly.

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