Friday, April 6, 2012

Ooops, Mr. Eggleston!

Recently I wrote about the March 12th auction of William Eggleston's prints at Christie's in New York City and how important I thought the sale was to the validation of digital pigment prints. Eggleston's 1973 image of a child's tricycle sold for $578,500 ... a whopping price for a digital pigment print.

Yesterday I learned that a New York collector, Jonathon Sobel, had filed suit against Mr. Eggleston, his son, William Eggleston III and the Eggleston Artistic Trust. In his suit, Mr. Sobel claims that his collection of more than 190 Eggleston prints "has been devalued by the auction held at Christie's on March 12th and that the Trust had violated the New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law." The suit further claims "fraudulent misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and promissory estoppel."

So, what is this all about? Mr. Eggleston produced another edition of his works in another medium (digital pigment prints). Most of Eggleston's previous prints were done in the dye transfer process. Mr. Sobel's lawsuit is based upon, in my opinion, the assumption that the works that he owns, are and will be the only representations ever produced. To date Mr. Eggleston, his son and the Trust have not responded to Mr. Sobel's suit.

To read an interview of Mr. Sobel by Photo District News (PDN) click here.

The New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law states that sellers must be clear about edition size and that they must state how many multiples are already in existence. There is no mention of works to be made in the future.

Fourteen states across the country ... Arkansas, California, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, South Carolina and Wisconsin ... all enacted print disclosure laws to protect consumers of limited edition graphic and photographic prints. In these laws, the sellers of prints are required to provide buyers with documentation that the artworks they had purchased are part of a limited edition, the number of copies in the edition and that no other editions of the same images exist. Important exceptions, however, are made for earlier limited editions that are of different sizes (a 8" x 10" photograph produced in a 4" x 5" format), different production techniques (a gelatin silver print produced as a platinum print or a photogravure) or different numbering.  

There is going to be a lot of opinions written about this specific case. Since the works that Mr. Sobel owns are vintage/original dye transfer prints; in my opinion, there value has been increased by the mere interest, dollar amount of the Christie's sale and demand. According to the art adviser, Allan Schwartzman: "As the market expands, value often does, too."  No doubt, the market for Eggleston's work will be on the move ... in which direction is anyone's guess.

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