This first-hand, in-depth account of the Peter Doig attribution trial currently in progress in Chicago has been chronicled by an Instagram user in such depth that it is worthy of appropriation. Here Loyola Condenser spills the beans on a trial that is clearly out of control.
Doig trial background. I’m still mystified as to why this case actually went to trial. I’ve been searching the internet for an answer without success. The case was first filed 4-30-13. There are 259 entries in the Federal Court document registry relating to various actions in the case. Initially, in addition to Doig, Gordon Veneklasen, and Doig’s attorneys were named as defendants. Veneklasen and Dontzin were dropped from the suit in September 2014 per judicial ruling. There was a lot of filing activity regarding witness depositions, scheduling, etc. In 2013 Doig filed a statement from Bovard, PE Doige’s sister, attesting to his history of prison, Lakehead University, etc. Zieske countered with a conflicting statement from PE Doige’s mother which denied all that known history about Doige. We never heard anything else about Doige’s mother’s statement during the trial. In late 2015 Doig filed a motion for summary judgment (asked for the case to be thrown out). This was denied, but I can’t find out why. It seems that it was an oral opinion and therefore not online. Doig asked the court to reconsider their decision because they believed the court made an error regarding Doig’s 1976 passport photo. Doig argued that the person in his own 1976 passport photo (clearly dated 1976) was not the same person in the 1976 Lakehead University photo of Doige. Again, the court did not dismiss the case. I can’t find the court’s response to this request for reconsideration. In spring of 2016, Doig asked the court to deny expert status to both Bartlow and Wiener. The court denied and allowed both Bartlow and Wiener to testify as experts. In July 2016 Doig asked the court to split the case into two parts. If the plaintiffs did not prove Doig was the painter, then there would be no need to have any hearing on damages. The court subsequently issued its opinion that both Bartlow and Wiener were qualified to be expert witnesses. I can’t find any ruling regarding splitting the trial and the trial subsequently proceeded.
Spent yesterday at the Peter Doig trial in Chicago. It is so weird and so wrong. A Canadian corrections officer and a Chicago art dealer are suing Doig for impeding the sale of a painting painted by Peter Doige who they claim is really Peter Doig but that Peter Doig is denying he painted it because either he wants to deny he was once incarcerated as an adolescent or, get this, because he is trying to cover up the fact that he can’t really draw. There is actually a real Peter Doige who was incarcerated and did paint but the plaintiff insists that famous Peter Doig is the person he knew in 1975. The art dealer/expert never heard of Peter Doig. If that gives you an idea of his expertise. I’m going again today. Room 2125 Dirkson building. It’s unbelievable that something like this can happen to a painter. Just wrong.
Day 3 Peter Doig trial. Peter Bartlow the plaintiff dealer was examined and cross-examined. Testimony covered his belief that the disputed painting was by Doig and not by Doige who signed it. He had multiple theories as to why Doig was denying authorship but never considered that Doig denied authorship because he didn’t paint it. He admitted his quest was an obsession and had become personal. He admitted that his many emails to Doig’s dealer and family members could be viewed as threatening. Doig’s lawyer considered the emails extortionate. Bartlow was very upset by the disrespectful manner by which he was treated by Doig’s gallery.
Bartlow, a print dealer, was allowed by the judge to act as his own expert witness in the trial despite strong objection from Doig’s team. Bartlow then explained his unique and idiosyncratic method of attribution. He isolated shapes from the disputed painting (1976) and made transparencies. He then found other similar shapes in late Doig works. This method plus the attestation of the owner correction officer convinced Bartlow that the painting was Doig’s despite Doig’s denial. Bartlow agreed that the earliest existent Doig works did not remotely resemble the disputed painting but explained that away because the painting had been created in the “nurturing womb” of the prison art class. Met Peter Doig also. Seems like a very nice person who has been subjected to a surreal ordeal. Does not seem like they will finish by Friday.
Day 4 Doig trial. Bartlow testimony continued. Bartlow believes this acrylic painting made in prison is on linen. Bartlow transported a painting he believes is worth $7million in a cardboard box to court. Bartlow doesn’t believe that a misspelled artist signature is significant. Bartlow borrowed $50K from a widow, Carol Grimm to pursue this case. Bartlow has not told Grimm about the existence of Peter Doige. Bartlow remains committed to his belief that the disputed painting is by Doig although he no longer believes Doig cares about hiding a prison record. He believes Doig refuses to acknowledge the work because he doesn’t want the art world to know his oeuvre is based on this seminal early work. Bartlow admitted there are no other Doig paintings existent from 1976,77,78, or 79. Bartlow was unable to find an expert to authenticate the painting because he believes there is an unholy alliance in the art world; that no museum would knowingly antagonize an important artist or collector by participating in this. Dr. Richard Shiff testified as Doig’s expert. He stated the painting is on canvas, not linen. He does not believe the disputed painting shares anything with Doig’s work but that it clearly shares similarities with the three known Doige paintings, which were shown. After Shiff testified for Doig he was cross-examined by Bartlow’s attorney Zieske. Zieske kept asking Shiff to recount specific similarities between Doige’s paintings and the disputed painting but wouldn’t give Shiff the reproductions as an aide. It seemed unnecessarily combative. In the afternoon Bartlow’s expert, Victor Wiener, took the stand. He was accepted as an expert in appraisal. He valued this painting signed Doige, made in prison, at $10K for its own intrinsic value. But because of the circumstances a speculator might pay $50-100K in case Doig might authenticate it. And Carol Grimm has already agreed to purchase it for $100K. If Doig recognizes it he values it at $6-8 million. He used comparables from the 1990’s that were much larger than the disputed work. He did not find anything similar to the Doige works in the disputed painting. 10 Doig witnesses planned for today. Whew.
Doig trial day 5, Friday morning. Defendant’s case (Doig) starts. I’m going to break this down over the weekend and also rearrange Friday morning’s testimony for clarity. The trial will continue into next week thanks to plaintiff attorney Zieske’s inability to be succinct. Marilyn Bovard, Peter Doige’s sister, testified. She recounted her complicated family history. At times their mother lived near Tucson; Doige was familiar with the desert landscape. Doige left home in 1971 at age 15. He struggled. Bovard lost contact with him for years. She reconnected with him in 1980. They both lived in Edmonton in the early eighties when their father was dying. She learned then from Doige that he had spent time in Thunder Bay, that he attended Lakehead University, that he was in prison there and that he was a member of the Seafarers Union. She said he had great respect for Ernie Adams (prison art teacher) for his artistic mentoring. Doige made art since childhood. She remembers seeing many of his paintings and drawings. His 1976 Lakehead University ID was in his wallet when he died in 2012. Bovard began to cry when she viewed the disputed painting. She firmly believes it is her brother’s work. She recognized the signature as her brother’s. She showed a photo of a similar work of a desert by her brother. On cross-examination Zieske aggressively tried to impeach her veracity, implying she had committed perjury and was subject to penalties. It was a bullying attack. He suggested she wanted her brother’s life to have meaning by claiming he had done this painting which was really done by the famous Doig. She said she didn’t really like Doig’s work, that the painting was meaningful to her because her brother painted it. After her testimony, she was crying in the hallway. Zieske approached her with feigned solicitude. Doig’s attorney yelled at his younger associate to get her away from Zieske. Tomorrow I will summarize the afternoon events. This lawsuit is unbelievable and so abusive. These people have been harassed for five years. I’m guessing legal costs are around 2 million for Doig. The trial has been going to 7 every night.
Doig trial afternoon day 5. The first witness was LeeAnn Sharpe. She described her relationship with Peter Doige as common-law-wife. She lived with him between 1992 and 1996. She first learned of this lawsuit July 17, 2016, when she saw the disputed painting and Doige’s Lakehead University ID on the news. She also learned Doige had died. She contacted Doig’s lawyers. She remembered seeing the Lakehead ID in his wallet when they lived together. She remembered seeing art supplies in his Toronto apartment in the eighties. She described several paintings by Doige. The next witness was Ernie Adams who taught art at the Thunder Bay prison 1976-1977. He watched Peter Doige paint the disputed painting over 5-6 months. Doige also visited Adams at Adams home after his release in 1977. Adams said Zieske contacted him and accused him of being unfair to Bartlow’s side, and threatened him with legal action and arrest for perjury if Adams did not immediately sign and return some papers sent to him by Zieske. Adams did not sign the papers. Adams believed Doige was 19-20 at the time of his incarceration. Next witness was Mary Doig, Peter Doig’s mother, age 79. Doig’s father died in February 2016. She testified that Doig lived at home with his family between 1975 and 1979 with the exception of the summer of 1977. In 1977 he had a summer job working in the oil fields in western Canada which he got through a family friend. Supporting evidence included high school yearbooks from 1975, 1976, 1977, and 1978 picturing Doig. Family letters described Doig’s whereabouts during 1976 and 1977. Doig was in a theater production in November 1976. Mrs. Doig stated her son had never been in prison, had never attended Lakehead University or been a member of the Seafarers Union. She never saw any art supplies in his room between 1976-1978. She did not believe he made any paintings until he went to art school in 1979. She has seen hundreds of his paintings and does not believe the disputed painting is his. It is not his signature and he has never gone by the name of Pete Doige. Testimony concluded for the day. Tomorrow I’ll try to summarize what we have heard so far and what might happen this coming week
Doig trial Synopsis. Fletcher owns a painting signed Pete Doige 1976. It was painted in Thunder Bay prison in 1976 by an inmate. He believes it is by famous artist Peter Doig. Bartlow is his expert, dealer, and co-plaintiff. Doig denied painting the work. Fletcher tried to sell it as a Doig. Doig advised the auction house that the painting was not his and the sale was halted. Fletcher and Bartlow sued Doig for tortious interference. The trial is taking place in Chicago because Bartlow filed suit in Chicago. F&B’s argument: 1. Doig is lying to cover up his past incarceration. 2. Doig misspelled his own name as subterfuge. 3. Doig is lying because all of his subsequent works are templated on this seminal painting and he is creatively bankrupt. 4. There is an unholy alliance in the art world such that Fletcher is unable to find an accepted expert to authenticate the work. 5. Everyone is lying. 6. All evidence to the contrary must be fabricated. 7. Doig can’t prove he wasn’t in prison in 1976. 8. The work looks just like Doig’s work. Doig’s case: 1. He did not paint the painting. 2. He was in high school, living at home in 1976 and proves it. 3. There actually was a painter named Pete Doige who was in Thunder Bay prison in 1976. 4. The prison art teacher remembers Doige (deceased in 2012) painting the work and states Peter Doig is not Doige. 5. The work looks nothing like Doig’s. 6. Bartlow’s opinion is meaningless. The prison records for Peter Doige can’t be found. The trial will continue today and tomorrow. Why did this case get to trial? Why wasn’t it thrown out?
CHOPPER!!! Day 6 Doig trial. Zieske cross-examined Mary Doig. Zieske referenced perjury for an inconsistency between her deposition and Friday’s testimony over Doig’s high school restaurant jobs. Zieske tried to make a causal connection between the duration of this lawsuit and Ms. Doig’s late discovery of family letters. Peter Doig took the stand. Doig denied ever attending Lakehead University, denied being pictured in Peter Doige’s student ID card, and denied incarceration in Thunder Bay or membership in the Seafarer’s Union. Doig authorized all records, and fingerprints to be released to plaintiffs. He never painted on canvas until 1979 when he started art school. In his driver’s license photo from 1976,16, yo Doig looked nothing like the man pictured in Peter Doige’s 1976 student ID. Doig described his summer in the gas fields in western Canada. He was out west from June to early September 1977. (Pretty gutsy for an urban private school boy!) He described the toll this case has taken on him and his family. Had he painted the work, he would have no reason to deny it. He was shocked and frightened by the plaintiffs’ persistence and felt it was creepy. It would be unethical to attribute someone else’s work to oneself. Zieske tried to make a causal connection between the lack of Canada tax records for Doig’s high school jobs & the duration of this lawsuit. There was much discussion of a timeline, prepared by Werner Gallery. The timeline dates were off by one year. Zieske attempts to make a causal connection between this error and his pursuit of the case. Tempers flared. Mockery ensued! The next witness was a private investigator familiar with arrest, court, sentencing, and prison transfer routines and paperwork. He was able to translate the charging documents for Peter E Doige that Fletcher could not. It seemed clear that Doige was tried in Toronto and Sudbury for two crimes and was sent to Thunder Bay to serve both sentences concurrently. The judge felt Zieske’s protracted arguing about evidence admissibility was pointless. The PI basically refuted all of Fletcher’s prior convoluted and conflicting theories about dates & a possible third Peter Doige/Doige!
Doig Trial Day 7. The trial concluded. No ruling was made. That will come sometime next week. So, given that, I am going to discuss the last day in installments. It began with Zieske and rebuttal testimony from Fletcher. They contended that Peter E Doige could not have painted the work because he would have received a stiffer sentence and therefore would not have been released in 1977 and also he would never have been sent to Thunder Bay prison (TBCC) from Toronto. Therefore the work had to have been painted by someone else, namely Peter M Doig. Again, all supposition. No evidence. There was also some bizarre discussion of Doige’s cumulative scores on his Lakehead transcripts which, they believed, cast doubt on the transcript authenticity. Judge was perplexed as to the relevance. Plaintiff case concluded. Much discussion followed regarding what exhibits would pass into the case file as evidence. Zieske’s closing argument. He promised on Friday it would be “ragged and cumbersome”. No kidding. Zieske stated he can’t explain why Doig would deny painting the work. Zieske then discussed his artist mother and her mistaken memories. Zieske pleaded for the court to attribute the painting to Doig. Even if the court doesn’t, he believes Doig interfered with a $100K sale. Zieske believes they have proven that Doige could not have been in TBCC in 1976. He claims that Peter E Doige could not have been a student in 1976 and therefore transcripts would be fake. He alluded to hidden evidence. He referred to Doige as “Captain Butterknife” Zieske suggested that Doig’s brother could have been impersonating Doig in the high school yearbook. Fletcher recognized Doig just like Zieske’s fourth-grade classmates would be able to recognize him from his gestures. (There were many more weird statements made). Bartlow is an expert. Wiener is an expert and doesn’t put his reputation up for sale. Mary Doig will do anything to support her son. It was strange. I never saw any actual physical proof, really only Fletcher’s identification and all the supposition. Tomorrow I’ll post Nagy’s close.
Doig trial day 7. Nagy closing argument for Doig. In contrast to Zieske’s close, Nagy’s was cogent, concise, coherent and contained no bizarre personal allusions. Nagy asserted that the plaintiffs had not met the burden of proof to make their case and it was their burden to make. They provided only a painting, two emails, and some courthouse records. No other prison personnel, no other expert, only themselves. Fletcher couldn’t remember any other personnel who interacted with Doige. Bartlow couldn’t find a willing authentication expert, so had to act on his own. He had never heard of Doig, he couldn’t tell linen from canvas or acrylic from oil. He invented an idiosyncratic methodology. Bartlow’s attribution proofs were based on conjecture and shifted constantly. They have a photo of a man who isn’t Peter Doig and a signature that isn’t Doig’s. Doige was in jail, there are courthouse records, Lakehead records, Seafarers Union records. They are all for Doige, not Doig. Plaintiffs never tried to contact Doig’s witnesses. None of Doig’s witnesses have 8 million reasons to lie. His mother established his whereabouts and letters support it. The painting’s signature isn’t his, he never went by the name Pete Doige. Unlike Bartlow, Shiff doesn’t have a 25% stake in the outcome. In January 2016 the plaintiffs told the judge that Adams (prison art teacher) recanted his identification but Adams testified that Zieske unsuccessfully threatened him with the US Marshalls to try to get him to recant. Fletcher changed his testimony multiple times. They changed Doig’s motive for denial. Their motive became personal. Wiener’s opinion is not supported by any evidence. Doig’s motive for denial was simple, he didn’t paint the painting. Zieske then had 10 minutes to rebut Nagy’s closing argument and presented nothing of substance. The judge will give an oral decision next week. He will keep the painting in the custody of the court until then.
More to come as the trial concludes next week
Photo: P C Robinson © Artlyst 2016