A leading New York art collector and a trustee of the MoMA, Steven Tananbaum has sued the Gagosian Gallery and the artist Jeff Koons for not delivering three works for which he has paid a total of $13 million. The complaint, however, goes far beyond just accusing the two parties of failing to act on a commercial promise, it accuses them of planning to swindle collectors out of large sums of money, which, given the price of Koons’ works, is millions.

Back in September 2014, Tananbaum signed an agreement with Gagosian that stipulated the delivery date for the work Balloon Venus would be 25 December of that year, in return for which payment would be made in instalments. To date, Tananbaum declares that he has paid $6.4 million but that the delivery date has constantly been moved backwards and is now slated for August 2019 (which would make it almost five years since the agreement was signed). The reason given for the delay was unexpected additional data processing in the “scanning and engineering phase”.

However, Tananbaum has in the meantime also paid a deposit and instalments on two other works by Koons, Eros in December 2016 and Diana in 2017. The monies paid for these latter works come to $6.65 million, making a total of just over $13 million that he has paid to Gagosian. The complaint details failings on the part of the gallery to honour its promise to allow Tananbaum to see the works in progress and to give the name of the foundry that was casting them.

The language of the complaint makes for colourful reading, with the heart of the matter worded as follows: “The archaic system, once all of the obfuscations are stripped away, exposes a garden-variety, interest-free, fraudulent financial routine that harkens the name Ponzi”!

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