Buzzed-about artist Derek Fordjour is punching back against a dealer who slapped the painter with a lawsuit alleging he failed to hold up his end of a $20,000 bargain.
Last month, Lower East Side gallerist Robert Blumenthal claimed in New York State Supreme Court that the artist reneged on a deal made in 2014 to deliver 20 paintings for a total of $20,000, delivering only 13 of the promised works.
According to an email Fordjour sent to Blumenthal in 2014, at the time the disputed agreement was made, the artist wrote: “As discussed, for the sum of 20k I commit 20 works, 15 paintings (oil and or acrylic on panel) and 5 works on paper.”
In court papers filed on March 18, Fordjour and his attorneys are asking that the lawsuit, along with its claims of breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and a request for injunctive relief, all be dismissed.
But the response takes things even further, with Fordjour demanding that all the works he gave to Blumenthal now be returned. And by the artist’s count, that totals 15 works, not the 13 Blumenthal claims to have received.
In their argument, Fordjour’s lawyers claim the works were part of a “consignment agreement that Fordjour has since terminated.”
As a result, “effective immediately, [Fordjour] demands that the gallery return the works delivered under the agreement and remit any proceeds from sales of the works,” according to the court documents.
Fordjour is also demanding that Blumenthal return three additional works in his possession that he says were not subject to their agreement, or otherwise remit the proceeds of any sales of those works, “along with a detailed account.”
According to the filing, if Blumenthal refuses to comply, the artist will file a complaint for breach of contract, among other claims.
No one disputes that, in 2014, Fordjour’s prices were just a fraction of what they are now, with works selling for around $1,000 to $2,000 each. His work is now in high demand: he created a mural for the Whitney Museum in 2018, and his collectors include Drake, Beyonce, and Jay Z, and his current auction record stands at $169,293, set in October 2019 at Phillips London, for Green Horn (2017).
In their papers, the artist’s lawyers acknowledge that, “like most successful artists, Fordjour received much support along the way.” They say the artist is “incredibly grateful for the support he has received, and he knows he wouldn’t have gotten to where he is without it.”
But they go on to claim that “success often breeds resentment, and there is usually someone who believes they have received less credit than they deserve. In this case, that someone is Robert Blumenthal.”
Things are clearly heating up. Asked for comment, Blumenthal’s attorney, Mark Seidenfeld, said the motion was “a classic demonstration of how Fordjour and his attorneys are attempting to abuse the court system to cheat their way to their goals.”
“The motion is a piece of creative writing based upon fantasy; it ignores the facts, the intention of the parties, and the subsequent action of the parties,” he added. “What saddens our client most is that he was a champion for Derek Fordjour, and his commitment to the artist is now returned with deceit and untruths.”
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