Second art dealer dragged into dispute between high profile collector and leading New York gallery

Robins v Zwirner, New York. The ongoing case between the Miami art collector, Craig Robins, and the New York dealer, David Zwirner, over an alleged breach of confidentiality has brought a third person into the fray.

Jack Tilton, who represented the South African
artist Marlene Dumas until 2008, was subpoenaed to appear in court
yesterday (Tuesday 20 April) for a hearing on Robins’ motion for a
preliminary injunction prohibiting Zwirner from selling any of three
paintings by Dumas being shown at Zwirner’s gallery.

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Tilton has become
embroiled in one of the more unusual cases to make it to a US court.
Robins is suing Zwirner for $8m, after Zwirner told Dumas, whom he now
represents, that he had sold her 1994 painting Reinhardt’s Daughter
on Robins’ behalf. Robins filed suit in the United States District
Court for the Southern District of New York on 29th March. As well the
alleged breach of confidentiality, Robins alleges that the disclosure
landed him on a “blacklist” by Dumas, precluding him from buying her
works on the primary market. He also says that, to avoid a lawsuit in
2005 when he first found out about the blacklist, Zwirner promised him
“first choice, after museums, to purchase one or more [primary market]
Marlene Dumas works”.

Tilton
was called to give testimony supporting Robins’ claims that Zwirner had
agreed to keep quiet about the sale, and his claims of the existence of
a blacklist of collectors barred from having access to Dumas’ new work.
According to court documents, Robins has been a major collector of the
South African artist, owning 29 works, and was eager to acquire three
paintings from her new exhibition at David Zwirner. He describes the
artist’s latest body of work shown in “Against the Wall” (18 March-24
April) as “comparable to what the ‘Blue Period’ was to Picasso”,
adding: “I could not have a complete…collection of her work without a
top painting from [this show].”

Zwirner
is vigorously defending himself against the claim that he breached
confidentiality and that he promised to give Robins special access to
works by Dumas.

In his
court papers, filed last month, he states: “I did not enter into any
confidentiality agreement, written or oral, with Mr Robins.” He says
that the only written contract he had with Robins (dated 2 December
2004) does not contain a confidentiality clause.

He
also denies telling the artist—;who he did not represent at the
time—;about the sale, in order to curry favour with her, as Robins
alleges. He says he acted “in accordance with Dumas’ expectation of
being informed of such sales and to inform her that the new owner would
be willing to loan Reinhardt’s Daughter for important
exhibitions.” He said that while it is “customary practice” for
transactions to be kept confidential during negotiations, “by contrast,
once an artwork is sold…the sale is no longer within the control of the
seller.”

Zwirner also
says he did not offer Robins first pick from a future show: “I never
promised or stated to Mr. Robins that I would sell him a painting…I did
not represent Marlene Dumas at that time and could not possibly have
made any promises in regards to her work.”

Tilton
was subpoenaed to appear in court by Robin’s lawyers, but said he was
not testifying against his will. Answering questions posed by the
plaintiff’s lawyer, Aaron Richard Golub, Tilton said he was approached
by Robins to sell the work by Dumas in 2004. “I went to David Zwirner
and he had a ready buyer and we culminated a transaction.”

Tilton
told the court that he had told Zwirner that Robins wished to keep the
sale a secret: “There was a discussion of price. There was a discussion
of confidentiality because at that time Dumas was concerned about the
reselling of her work. I said: ‘You can’t tell the artist, you can’t
tell anyone about this work.’ There was a point when Craig was worried
that David would tell someone so I had to reconfirm with David that he
wouldn’t tell anyone and he agreed.” This alleged breach of
confidentiality is the central claim in the suit, and Tilton told the
court that, “confidentiality is a key element [in gallery
transactions]. Collectors don’t want their business known in general.”
Golub asked if Tilton had any discussions with Marlene about blacklisting collectors in 2004.
Tilton
told the court that in 2004 he had several discussions with Marlene
Dumas about “blacklisting” collectors. This was a “key topic”, he said,
and that the artist and her studio manager, Jolie van Leeuwen “were
upset that collectors were capitalising on her work”. He said a list of
collectors that Dumas wanted barred from her work was circulated among
galleries representing the artist, including his gallery, Zeno X
Gallery in Antwerp, Galerie Paul Andriesse in Amsterdam, Gallery
Koyanagi in Tokyo, and Frith Street in London. Tilton told the court
that the names on the list included collectors such as Richard Cooper,
Daniel Holtz and dealers such as Marc Jancou.

Tilton also testifed that Zwirner included Reinhardt’s Daughter
in an exhibition at the former Zwirner & Wirth gallery, “Marlene
Dumas: Selected Works” (18 February-23 April 2005). At this point, Van
Leeuwen asked Tilton if Robins had owned this work at one time. Tilton
said Van Leeuwen “was quite upset and almost screaming hysterically [on
the telephone] that I hadn’t disclosed that Craig had owned the work”
and that Dumas wanted to put Craig on a blacklist for reselling.

Tilton
then said he was present at a meeting with Robins and Zwirner at the
end of 2004, when Zwirner offered to give first choice of Dumas’ work
at a future show. “The museums would get first pick and then Craig,”
Tilton told the court.

After
Robins’ lawyer had finished questioning, an attorney representing
Zwirner took over. His questioning brought to light the fact that
Tilton himself may have told Dumas that Robins once owned the work.
According to the defence attorney, an email from Tilton to Dumas
explained that Robins had sold the painting because he was involved in
divorce proceedings.

The
defence also submitted documents to the court which he said confirmed
the existence of a blacklist, notably a fax from Dumas’ studio
referring to two types of lists (black and grey). The fax revealed the
names of restricted buyers, alongside the names of those who had
submitted to them the studio. It emerged that David Zwirner had been
placed on the blacklist—;by Jack Tilton.

The
defence asked why Tilton had been willing to name Zwirner but not Craig
Robins. Tilton said: “Craig had bought [the painting] on resale and
sold it on resale. It was really none of [Marlene & Jolie’s]
business.” Tilton said the difference was that “Zwirner was selling
lots of pieces by Dumas not just one. He was actively buying and
selling.”

At the end
of the hearing, a tired Judge William Pauley III offered some real
world perspective to the battling art figures, commenting on the length
of Tilton’s testimony, which went on for almost two hours. “It’s been a
long day and I have a murder trial going on,” the judge said as he
ended the hearing.
The parties are awaiting Judge Pauley’s decision on the motion.
This
article has been updated to remove Zeno X gallery owner Frank Demaegd’s
name from the list of restricted collectors. Demaegd was allegedly
asked to submit names but was not blacklisted himself.