|William Eggleston - Untitled, 1970|
The sale was controversial because it included new, larger format editions of the photographer's famous dye-transfer images that the artist first produced in the 1970s and early 1980s. The 36 lot sale totalled $5.9m with the top lot, Untitled 1970, setting a world auction record for a single print by the photographer at $578,000 (est $200,000-$300,000).
Sobel sought damages from Eggleston and his son William Eggleston III, as trustees of the Eggleston Artistic Trust, for violation of the New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law (Acal), fraudulent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment and promissory estoppel.
From 2008 to 2011, Sobel bought eight limited edition works by Eggleston, each of which was individually numbered, measuring about 16 by 20 inches. The same images were consigned to Christie's but in a larger size (44 by 60 inches), and were digitally manufactured from computer-generated files.
The court papers state that "Sobel's belief that the works were limited editions was a principal factor in his decision to purchase them... he argues that the defendants violated the Acal by holding out the limited edition works as restricted to a maximum number of multiples and subsequently creating and selling the reprints." The court ruled that "nothing in the statute suggests that such behaviour violates the Acal". Sobel could not be reached for comment.
“The decision is important because it confirms that artists who work in multiples will continue to have the right to use the images that they create,” Eggleston’s lawyer John Cahill of Lynn Cahill LLP, told ARTINFO in an e-mail. Virginia Rutledge, art lawyer and advisor and consultant to Eggleston's legal counsel, added that “the decision is right on the New York law, and is an important affirmation that artists are entitled to continue to work with images that they create to produce new editions. This is good news for artists, and their audiences.”
Sobel’s lawyer Thomas Danziger did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Through a representative, Sobel told ARTINFO: “While the judge has given her opinion, we respectfully disagree with it and we do not think it is fair or equitable for photography or print collectors.” Though he did not specify whether he plans to file an appeal — in her decision, the judge denied his request to amend the existing complaint — Sobel seems determined to have the last word. “We have become aware of potential new facts in our case as a result of a suit that has been filed in Tennessee, and we are reviewing that information at this time,” he said.
Gareth Harris and Charlotte Burns - The Art Newspaper, and Julia Halperin ARTINFO March 29