Priska C. Juschka Fine Art has been sued by one of her artists in Federal Court. According to CourtHouse News Service, Dana Melamed claims the 27th Street Chelsea gallery owes her more than $68,000 in consignment sales. She also says the gallery discounted pieces without her permission, and refuses to return works worth upwards of $400,000. Seeking actual damages of at least $68,825, plus $1 million in punitive damages, the artist claims “breach of contract, breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, unjust enrichment, and conversion”.
Melamed, an abstract sculptor who works in sheet metal, film, and Cinefoil, entered what appears to be a fairly typical gallery consignment agreement in June 2005: gallery owners Priska Juschka and Arnold Katzen were to sell Melamed’s works at a mutually-agreed-upon price, and would take a 50 percent commission. They agreed to send Melamed her 50 percent within 30 days.
It’s unclear whether the 30 days reflects the date of sale or payment received, but either way, it’s not unusual for a gallery to extend past the agreed period to make payment even if it’s not good business practice. Collectors are slow to pay, gallery overhead is high, staff are busy. But according to Melamed’s claims late payments were the least of her problems. From CourtHouse News Service:
“Specifically, the plaintiff’s art works entitled ‘Temporary cities, No. 1-9,’ ‘Urban Mechanism,’ ‘Driven,’ ‘Post-Human’ (collectively, ‘Art Basel Works’) were sold by defendants to an undisclosed buyer in June 2009 for the total amount of $143,650,” the complaint states.
Melamed says the gallery told her those works sold for only $98,000, and have paid her only $20,000 in installments.
She says the art work is scheduled to be shipped to a buyer in Switzerland.
She adds: “Since 2005, defendants allegedly sold forty-six of the plaintiff’s art works. However, defendants provided Plaintiff with Advices of sales for only 29 art works.”
And, she says: “In addition, in violation of the consignment agreement and without the plaintiff’s written consent, most of her art works sold by the gallery were discounted by defendants.”
Discounts are standard practice in the art world, so unless they were particularly large, Melamed may not get too far with that claim. Priska C. Juschka Fine Art has been ordered to show cause April 15th, so at that point we’ll know more about whether the gallery disputes the number of works sold and money owed. Certainly, $1 million in punitive damages seems excessive. Then again, so does under-representing the amount a work sold for and still failing to pay the amount owed.