Collector Sues Chicago Art Gallery Owner for Losing Sol LeWitt Certificate
It was the case of the missing drawing. Actually, it was the certificate that was lost, and in this case, it's the same thing.
The debate over what constitutes art will play out not in a movie theater, but in a courtroom. In New York County Supreme Court on May 22, collector and dealer Roderic Steinkamp sued Rhona Hoffman and her gallery for $1.4 million, claiming that she lost a certificate of authenticity for Sol LeWitt "Wall Drawing #448" after he consigned it to her in 2008.
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Conceptual artist LeWitt's wall drawings are instructions that anyone who owns them can follow. Without the certificate, the $350,000 drawing cannot be created or sold.
"Since the wall drawings do not constitute freestanding, portable works of art like a framed canvas or a sculpture on a podium, documentation of the work is key to transmitting it or selling it to a collector or institution," the complaint states as reported from Courthouse News' Entertainment Law Digest. "The unique nature of Sol LeWitt's wall drawings renders their accompanying certificates of authenticity critical to the works' value."
They are especially essential to the work now that LeWitt has passed away. Each one says "This certification is the signature for the wall drawing and must accompany the wall drawing if it is sold or otherwise transferred."
Steinkamp claims the Hoffman Gallery took responsibility for the artwork after signing a consignment agreement. In 2011, they reported that the certificate was "lost and irretrievable." The gallery's insurer would not cover the cost of the missing certificate.
According to the complaint, Hoffman said, "I would have to make a police claim but in order to do that I would have to lie about the timing and I don't like doing that. It has been too long to call the cops but we are checking."
It also says, "Admitting her fault and legal responsibility, defendant Hoffman requested from plaintiff the 'smallest amount' he 'would accept,' acknowledging that 'if worse comes to worse' she 'will have to pay' plaintiff 'cash.'"
Steinkamp is instead, as explained in ArtInfo, suing Hoffman for breach of bailment (failure to act as a proper custodian for a piece of property), breach of contract to maintain and preserve the certificate, negligence and conversion, all at $350,000 per count.
The "mysterious disappearance" of the certificate may never be solved, but this lawsuit is sure to further the conversation about what really is art.