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New York family at war in legal dispute over sale of multi-million-dollar Reinhardt

Court told that abstract work said to be of “no value” was resold for up to $10m just months later at Art Basel

New York

Cyrus Greenspon, a real-estate agent, is accusing his half-sister Amy Greenspon of staging a “highly questionable” sale of Ad Reinhardt’s Blue Painting, 1953, which formerly belonged to their late father.

According to court papers, Amy Greenspon, the co-founder of Algus Greenspon gallery, initially sold the work for $375,000 in early 2014 to James Lindon, a former colleague from Pace gallery who is now an independent dealer. Then, in June 2014, David Zwirner gallery sold the painting for between $5m and $10m at Art Basel in Switzerland, according to media reports.

The discrepancy reveals the often murky and subjective nature of art pricing. Court papers state that the Reinhardt work had been valued several times before the initial sale, at figures ranging from zero to $1.5m. During an Internal Revenue Service audit of the family’s estate, Amy’s former employer, the Pace president Marc Glimcher, allegedly wrote a letter claiming the piece had “no value”, according to the petition. Glimcher declined to comment on the grounds that “valuations with collectors are strictly confidential”.

In documents filed in Manhattan’s Surrogate’s Court in October, Cyrus questions why Amy sold the work for such a low price in the first place, and whether she was “in any co-ownership agreements, consignment agreements, or commission agreements regarding this sale” with David Zwirner, whom he says she knew personally.

A Zwirner gallery spokeswoman says there was no such arrangement. “As far as we are concerned, we took on a straightforward consignment and sold it for a price that reflected the value of the painting—a good result for both our client and the Reinhardt estate, which we represent,” she says. “Our consignment had no connection to the Greenspon family whatsoever and David Zwirner has no relationship with any of the parties involved in the dispute over the work’s initial sale.”

“All about money”

Neither Cyrus Greenspon nor James Lindon returned requests for comment. Evan Sarzin, a lawyer for Amy Greenspon, says: “The bottom line is that this is all about money, and [Cyrus is] looking to get more of it… I don’t see any merit.”

The dispute over the Reinhardt work is at the centre of a legal attempt by Cyrus to wrest control of the estate of their father, the art collector and psychiatrist William Greenspon, from Amy’s mother, whom he says has improperly allowed her daughter to manage the assets. The estate was worth more than $6m when William Greenspon died in 2006, according to court papers.

Cyrus claims that Amy has failed to provide the estate with documentation of the sale of the Reinhardt to Lindon. He says that he argued for a public sale and that “several auction houses had been interested in taking [the work] on consignment, and all had indicated that higher prices could be derived”.

Peter Stern, an art lawyer unconnected with the case, says: “If the Reinhardt had been sold for $375,000 and was soon thereafter sold by Zwirner for $5m-plus, then the initial sale would appear to be very questionable.”

For those looking to avoid family feuds, Stern advises that the “cleanest way to sell art in an estate is for it to be sold at public auction by a suitable auction house. That way the sale price is, by definition, fair market value.”