Franz West’s Widow Dies Leaving Battle Over His Estate Unresolved

Tamuna Sirbiladze pursued an art career independently of her husband.

West's widow Tamuna Sirbiladze succumbed to cancer at the age of 44. Photo: video still via Vimeo

The Georgian painter and widow of Franz WestTamuna Sirbiladze died last Wednesday of cancer at the age of 45, Charim Gallery, her Vienna-based gallery announced. She is survived by two children.

Sirbiladze pursued an art career independently of her more well-known artist husband West. According to Der Standard, at a memorial exhibition dedicated to her late husband in 2013, she said that her artistic practice was always independent of West’s and that she did not see herself in his shadow.

Her death, however, raises questions over what will happen to West’s estate, an issue that has been the subject of a long-running feud since he passed away in 2012.

According to the Art Newspaper, West created the Vienna-based Franz West Private Foundation only five days before his death, effectively diverting all royalties, copyrights, and assets to the new foundation and away from Sirbiladze, the couple’s children, and the non-profit Franz West Archive.

Since West’s death, the Archive has been trying to regain control of the estate in a series of lawsuits.

Franz West in 2009. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Franz West in 2009.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The situation is complicated further by the fact that mega dealers David Zwirner (who works with the archive, and represented West until 2001) and Larry Gagosian (who works with the foundation and has represented West since) are also vying for control of the multi-million dollar estate.

In the meantime, an agreement between Sirbiladze and the foundation was reportedly nearing completion just before her death. According to Sirbiladze’s lawyer Christoph Kerres, West’s descendants believe they should have received at least half of his estate, which the lawyer told the Art Newspaper has a value in the “high double-digit millions.”

According to Kerres, a settlement would give a percentage of West’s work back to his family (Sirbiladze and their two children), with the foundation continuing to “administer” the estate. It’s unclear what will happen to the deal now that Sirbiladze has tragically died.

As with all struggles over the control of artists’ estates, it is the art that suffers the most. And in this case, the unfortunate passing of Sirbiladze—a talented artist in her own right—is being shadowed by questions over the fate of her husband’s work.

Sirbiladze was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1971. In 1989, she enrolled at the State Academy of Arts in her native city. She later enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and then studied at London’s Slade School of Fine Art.

Tamuna Sirbiladze at James Fuentes Gallery, New York Photo: James Fuentes Gallery, New York

Tamuna Sirbiladze at James Fuentes Gallery, New York.
Photo: James Fuentes Gallery, New York.

During her studies in Austria she was deeply influenced by the Viennese actionists Hermann Nitsch and Otto Muehl. During her time in Vienna she also met and later married West.

Sirbiladze recently enjoyed successful solo shows in Vienna, New York, and London. In 2015, she was subject of two New York solo exhibitions, at James Fuentes Gallery and Half Gallery; and participated in an exhibition at the Vienna Secession, curated by Ugo Rondinone.

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