Keith Haring Foundation Avoids $40 Million Lawsuit In Federal Ruling

A US federal judge has ruled that a decision by the Keith Haring Foundation to label 80 purported Haring works inauthentic does not represent an antitrust conspiracy, reports Courthouse News. Before dying in 1990 at the age of 31, Haring reached great heights in the art world with paintings inspired by graffiti, social activism and a pop aesthetic. The artist’s 1986 “Crack is Wack” mural greeted commuters on the Harlem River Drive as one of New York City’s most visible public art landmarks.

Nine collectors, led by Elizabeth Bilinski, claimed that the foundation improperly ruled that their works were fakes in 2007 without reviewing provenance information, destroying their $40-million collective valuation,

The lawsuit against the foundation alleged that it, dealers and auction houses ignored evidence of the works’ authenticity as a means of controlling the market on Haring paintings. But U.S. District Judge Denise Cote refused to allow such “broad allegations” to make it past the pleading stage. The collectors’ posited the theory that “any refusal by an auction house, dealer, or gallery to sell a Haring without authentication by the foundation could be a conspiratorial act,” she wrote in a 35-page opinion.

“Furthermore, the complaint’s allegations regarding the refusals of auction houses and others to accept plaintiffs’ works can be explained by unilateral decisions motivated by entirely lawful goals,” the opinion states. “The decision by any individual entity not to sell artwork that may not be authentic is an act consistent with lawful, independent action.”

The authentication committee for the Haring Foundation shared a similar fate to that of The Andy Warhol Foundation’s authentication arm, Haring’s was dissolved in 2012 so that the foundation could focus on its charitable activities. The same year, the Warhol Foundation ceased authentication activities as a response to the exorbitantly high costs of defending itself against similar lawsuits.

haring’s works have fetched millions of dollars at auction, with the current record for a painting at $4.9 million, set at a Sotheby’s New York auction in May 2014, for an untitled painting from 1986. When the suit was filed one year ago, his record stood at $2.8 million. Since then, four of his works have exceeded that price.

Photo: Glenn Halvorson, Walker Art Centre

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