A suit involving the artist John Chamberlain and a work that may or may not be by Andy Warhol will go forward, after a judge denied Mr. Chamberlain's attorney's request for summary judgment.
The dispute is between Mr. Chamberlain and a former Warhol assistant, Gerard Malanga. Mr. Malanga claims that Mr. Chamberlain misappropriated and then misrepresented a work, titled "315 Johns," as a Warhol, when actually it was created by Mr. Malanga in 1971, with the help of two other artists, Jim Jacobs and Irene Harris.
Mr. Malanga alleges that Mr. Jacobs stored the work at the apartment of Mr. Chamberlain and his then wife, Lorraine, and that after the couple's divorce it made its way into Mr. Chamberlain's hands. Around 2000, Mr. Chamberlain submitted the work to the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, which declared it to be a genuine Warhol. In 2004, Mr. Malanga claims, he ran into Mr. Chamberlain, who told him that he had sold the work as an authentic Warhol, for $5 million.
In a judgment issued August 13, Martin Schneier of the Supreme Court of the State of New York rejected all of Mr. Chamberlain's arguments. In response to his assertion that the authentication board's decision is conclusive evidence that "315 Johns" is a Warhol, Judge Schneier said that the decision of the board (which he mistakenly called the "Review Board") is not binding on the court. Responding to Mr. Chamberlain's argument that he can't return "315 Johns" to Mr. Malanga because he has sold it, Judge Schneier points out that Mr. Chamberlain has been unable to produce either the name of the purchaser or any documentation of the sale. He also rejected arguments that Mr. Malanga's suit was barred by the statute of limitations.
In an amended complaint, filed August 18 by Mr. Malanga's lawyer, Peter Stern of McLaughlin & Stern, Mr. Malanga demands that Mr. Chamberlain either return the work, if he has it, or compensate Mr. Malanga for it, if it's been sold. (The third artist, Harris, is no longer living; according to the amended complaint, Mr. Jacobs assigned his interest in the work to Mr. Malanga in 2005.) The complaint alleges that the work is worth at least $250,000. In the event that the work has been sold, Mr. Malanga asks the court to award him punitive damages "in excess of the amount by which Defendant defrauded an innocent third party." In other words, if Mr. Chamberlain did sell the work for $5 million, Mr. Malanga wants at least that much in damages.
Mr. Stern said in an interview that the case "once again raises questions about the competence and integrity of the Warhol authentication board."
A lawyer for the Warhol authentication board, Ronald Spencer, said that the board is "always open to receiving new information" and that if "reliable, relevant evidence emerges from the litigation, the board certainly would take that into account in assessing its [previously rendered] opinion."
Mr. Chamberlain's lawyer did not respond to a call yesterday. A man with a gruff voice who answered the phone at Mr. Chamberlain's house on Shelter Island late yesterday afternoon claimed that Mr. Chamberlain was in Belgium and that he was "the night watchman." When asked to pass on a message inviting Mr. Chamberlain to share his side of the story, to balance the account of Mr. Malanga's lawyers, the man said, "From what I hear, they talk a lot, but they're just a bunch of thieves."