legal

An Artist Suing Meow Wolf for $1 Million Is on the Hook to Pay the Experiential Art Giant’s Legal Fees


As Lauren Adele Oliver’s nearly three-year legal battle with art entertainment giant Meow Wolf continues, a New Mexico federal judge has issued an order granting sanctions against the artist, who will have to pay the legal fees for two motions filed by the popular purveyor of immersive art experiences.

Oliver sued Meow Wolf in March 2020 over the copyright of her sculpture Space Owl. The towering furry figure is the centerpiece of her climate-change themed installation Ice Station Quellette at Meow Wolf’s flagship exhibition, “House of Eternal Return,” which opened in Santa Fe to widespread acclaim in 2016.

Meow Wolf allegedly promised Oliver an “artist revenue share” for her work as part of what was then considered an art collective. She says she was only paid $2,000, even though the company went on to raise millions from investors, eventually expanding to Las Vegas and Denver.

Last week, Judge Kirtan Khalsa ruled that should the case be heard by a jury, Meow Wolf will be allowed to bring evidence that Oliver had deleted five years of email correspondence prior to initiating litigation, Courthouse News reported. Previously, Khalsa had denied the company’s motion to issue sanctions on the matter, ruling that Oliver had not been planning to sue Meow Wolf when she deleted the messages in July 2018.

Lauren Adele Oliver with a <em>Space Owl</em> toy. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Lauren Adele Oliver with a Space Owl toy. Photo courtesy of the artist.

But Meow Wolf’s legal team discovered new evidence that made Khalsa change her mind. A day before the mass deletion, Oliver had sent a text message asking for someone to help her find a “big gun” attorney who would help her secure a better deal with Meow Wolf by threatening litigation.

After reviewing new evidence, Judge Kirtan Khalsa ruled that Oliver “acted in bad faith” because “litigation was reasonably foreseeable” given the deteriorating state of her relationship with Meow Wolf.

“The court found the timing of the deletion to be suspicious” as it came at a period of “a rising dispute” surrounding Space Owl, Khalsa wrote. The judge also noted, however, that she was not convinced that the “deleted [emails] contained information that, if discovered, would have harmed [Oliver’s] case.”

Oliver claimed she stopped using the email address in 2015, after she learned it had been compromised in a hacking attack perpetrated against her insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. She set up an auto-response to let contacts know the address was inactive, and conducted almost all of her correspondence with Meow Wolf at a new email account.

Lauren Adele Oliver's Space Owl at Meow Wolf's "House of Eternal Return." Photo by Gabriella Marks.

Lauren Adele Oliver/Quellette, Space Owl at Meow Wolf’s “House of Eternal Return.” Photo by Gabriella Marks.

“The court’s ruling is complex, and we are weighing our options,” Oliver’s lawyer, Jesse A. Boyd, told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email. “This should not distract from the merits of the case. We intend to demonstrate at trial that Meow Wolf, Inc., impersonated an art collective in order to misappropriate the work of dozens of artists, including Lauren’s, as well as the labor of hundreds of volunteers and the financial support of the Santa Fe community in order to launch their entertainment empire.”

The latest ruling is just a small part of the case pending before Khalsa, who has scheduled a settlement conference for January 18. If the two sides fail to reach an agreement, the long-running dispute could go to trial.

As of press time, lawyers for Meow Wolf had not responded to inquiries from Midnight Publishing Group News.

In the lawsuit, Oliver is seeking more than $1 million in compensation, arguing that Space Owl, which she first created in 2006, was integral to Meow Wolf’s initial success, and widely used in its marketing and merchandise. Midnight Publishing Group News included “House of Eternal Return” on its list of the 100 defining works of the decade, with a photo of Space Owl illustrating the groundbreaking installation.

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Libbie Mugrabi’s Legal Issues Multiply, Art Advisor Appears to Photoshop Herself Into Instagram Snaps, & More Art-World Gossip


Every week, Midnight Publishing Group News Pro brings you Wet Paint, a gossip column of original scoops reported and written by Nate Freeman. If you have a tip, email Nate at [email protected]

 

THE ROLLER COASTER PANDEMIC LIFE OF LIBBIE MUGRABI

Last Saturday, Libbie Mugrabi, the ex-wife of mega-collector David Mugrabi, posted what seemed like an innocuous-looking Instagram from the Water Mill home she won in the divorce, lounging on the couch under a painting from Richard Prince’s “After Dark” series.

In fact, the post could be interpreted as a coded message. This was, after all, the same couch, under the same Richard Prince, where she reportedly found her husband naked with another woman. Libbie Mugrabi, perhaps, was sending a signal: She was not yet done with David Mugrabi. 

Sure enough, days later, her attorneys filed documents in Manhattan Supreme Court to reopen her divorce proceedings, despite settling last year. (No figure was made public but a source told Avenue that she “asked for $100 million.”) The papers have since been sealed, but the New York Post took a peek and found that the latest plot twist in this saga hinges on David’s agreed-upon transfer of works by Warhol and Basquiat to Libbie. According to Libbie’s camp, the works arrived damaged—and thus worth considerably less than their court-assigned value. 

Now, Wet Paint can reveal that’s just the latest legal drama ensnaring Ms. Mugrabi. Somehow, hosting an indoor, no-mask, peak-pandemic party in Miami where she reportedly climbed on top of a Damien Hirst statue was not the most memorable Libbie Mugrabi moment of the last year.

In March, she was sued by Dr. Kathryn Smerling, the Upper East Side psychotherapist who, according to court papers, took Libbie on as a client in September 2019. Smerling’s previously unreported complaint alleges that Libbie neglected to pay for her sessions in November, December, January, or February. Smerling now wants her client to make good on nearly $10,000 in therapy bills wracked up at the peak of her divorce proceedings. 

Libbie Mugrabi and David Mugrabi attend 92nd Street Y Annual Spring Gala. (Photo by WILL RAGOZZINO/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

The suit comes after a previously reported suit alleged that Libbie also skipped out on months of rent, with her former landlord alleging that she owes $569,504.25 in unpaid bills. (In the latest divorce filing, per the Post, Libbie claims David failed to pay his “support obligation for at least the five months” before she signed the separation agreement.)

Plus, there’s the matter of a certain podcast appearance that has made the rounds in the last few weeks. Libbie went on “Artlife with Avery Andon“—yes, that Avery Andon, the brother and dealer for that artist with all the charisma of a board game, Alec Monopoly—and betrayed zero remorse for throwing an indoor rager in December, but recoils when she hears that her pod host has antibodies.

When Andon noted that COVID “has disproportionately affected the lower class, the server industry, the hospitality industry, they’re getting crushed,” she responds with a laugh, “Are they? I don’t know, nobody wants to give me a discount on any service.”

But nothing beats this exchange:

Mugrabi: There’s a woman by the name of Marina Abramović…

Andon: Yeah, of course, one of the best performance artists in the world, ever.

Mugrabi: Oh, no no—is she… an artist?

Andon: Yeah, she’s a performance artist. 

Mugrabi: She is?

Andon: Yeah, or am I thinking of someone else?

Mugrabi: Maria? Maybe Maria. She’s very goth-looking to me.

AndonMarina Abramović is a performance artist.

Mugrabi: She has black hair…

Andon: Yeah, Marina Abramović is a performance artist.

Mugrabi: I didn’t know she was an artist.

Andon: You have some homework to do!

Nothing like having Marina Abramović mansplained to you by Alec Monopoly’s brother. 

Mugrabi did not respond to a request for comment, and her lawyer said on the phone that he could not comment now that the court documents had been sealed. Lawyers for Smerling did not respond to a request to comment. 

 

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT PHOTOSHOP

Maria Brito attends the Hugo Boss Prize 2018 Artists Dinner at the Guggenheim Museum. (Photo by Andrew Toth/Getty Images for Hugo Boss Prize 2018)

Let’s cut to the chase here—art advisor to the stars Maria Brito has, it might appear, been photoshopping herself into pictures of art galleries, and then posting the pictures on her Instagram. A tipster directed Wet Paint to her feed, and while some posts appear to show an actual human present in a white cube, others are a lot less clear. 

Take this photo of Brito, whose clients have included Diddy, Gwyneth Paltrow, and celebrity trainer Tracey Anderson, at Gagosian. If you’re scrolling through the feed double-tapping rapid style, such a picture might not look off to you. But then you look at her heels, and… well, they’re not quite on the ground. 

Same deal with a snap from the Ugo Rondinone show at Barbara Gladstone—the shoes float oh-so-slightly above the concrete floor, placing the image somewhere in the uncanny valley. Maybe she’s doing it for scale? Maybe she knows people are more likely to engage with an image of an artwork if there is a woman standing next to it?

One can’t be faulted for looking at Brito at the Carol Bove show at David Zwirner and thinking, “Is this picture real?”

Regarding Brito in front of a Keith Haring, the mind goes to a place of self-reflection. Is Maria Brito really, truly everywhere? Am I truly anywhere? Does anything matter?

Think about it… If Maria Brito wasn’t physically standing in front of this Frank Stella, but her 138,000 followers think that she is, who am I to say she was not physically there?

Brito, for her part, maintains she was most certainly there. “Let them comment whatever they want!” she told Wet Paint. “I was in all those shows and I have tons of pictures to prove it. Not new in this biz. 12 years and counting. If there’s anyone who sees all the shows in NYC, and the galleries know, that’s me. Love my haters. LOL.”

 

POP QUIZ

We have winners! But not too many winners—once again, the Quiz HQ hit readers with a bit of a trick question. The image was not Martin Kippenberger’s Paris Bar (1991), a depiction of the famous Berlin watering hole that once hung on the boîte’s wall but was sold to Charles Saatchi to pay off debts, and then auctioned off by Saatchi in 2009, when it was bought by the house’s owner François Pinault. (We understand the confusion: that one just went back on view at Monsieur Pinault’s new museum.) Alas, it was actually Daniel Richter’s new version of the work, Paris Bar, 2. Version (2011), which is still hanging on the wall at Paris Bar, the backdrop of many a wine-soaked evening. 

Here are the winners: Brussels-based curator Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte; collector and patron Scott Lorinsky—who happens to be a host on this week’s edition of Nota Bene, check it out; Dan Desmond, executive director of the Blue Rider Group at Morgan Stanley; Suzanne Geiss, founder of the Suzanne Geiss Company and board president of Performance Space New York; Mary Rozell, global head of the UBS Art Collection; the artist Victor de Matha; and Winter Street Gallery co-founder George Newall

Here’s this week’s quiz: Who is the notable person here and who made the work behind them?

Send guesses to [email protected]. Winner get hats and bragging rights, forever.

 

WE HEAR…

The new home of Skarstedt Paris. Photo courtesy Skarstedt.

… Run, don’t walk: The first new work by Cady Noland in decades has been secretly installed, by Noland, at Galerie Buchholz in New York on the occasion of Noland’s new book with Rhea Anastas, The Clip-On Method … Per Skarstedt is expanding his empire to the City of Light, opening an outpost on the hot hot hot Avenue Matignon, right across from Christie’s, and poached Maria Cifuentes from Phillips Paris to run the shop … Still House artist Alex Perweiler has opened a Los Angeles project space called Manuel Arts in a casita behind a Los Feliz home—the first show was Brook Hsu, and now there’s a Dozie Kanu presentation up, roll through …. The real estate heiress and collector Jordana Reuben is flipping a 2020 Anna Weyant drawing she bought from Nino Mier, and the flipping is happening at Phillips

Korakrit Arunanondchai Untitled (History painting_ (2013). Photo courtesy the Nasher.

… The Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University—a truly world-class institution at a school that educated yours truly—has acquired a painting by Korakrit ArunanondchaiJulian Schnabel will have the first post-pandemic show at the Brant Foundation, it opens in September … Artist Andrew Kuo is publishing a book about the NBA, The Joy of Basketball, with his Cookies podcast co-host Ben Detrick .… Wildly popular West Village cocktail bar Dante is opening a space in Aspen, spitting distance from all the galleries …. Streaming continuously on Ramiken’s website is Transfer Station (2021), an oddly compelling work of Land art, which also functions as a video-work-slash-performance, by the intriguing emerging artist Plano Lee: a feed of the dump across the street from the gallery, trucks churning waste all day and night, and Ramiken founder Mike Egan says the “best times to view the most action are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

A screen grab of Transfer Station (2021), a work by Plano Lee. Photo courtesy Ramiken.

 

SPOTTED

Two of these guys have plead guilty to insider trading and racketeering. Photo courtesy a tipster.

*** “Junk bond king” Michael Milken at the Mets game Monday, in the owner’s box with mega-collectin’ Amazins head honcho Steve Cohen, Mets beat the Cubs 5–2 *** Artist Pat Steir and publisher Joost Elffers at Bar Pitti, with actor John Turturro a table over *** Brian Donnelly at Barclays watching the Nets win, which makes sense, as the Nets are kind of like the KAWS of the NBA, just think about it *** Inigo Philbrick baby mama Victoria Baker-Harber back on Made in Chelsea *** Jake Gyllenhaal at Pastis, still rocking the mask, do you, king *** Tomás Saraceno off the artist roster at Esther Schipper *** Emmanuel Perrotin at the rooftop party he hosted at Galerie Perrotin’s Orchard Street digs as New York ended all restrictions after 15 months—once again, no need for virtual events anymore *** Richard Prince at One Gun Ranch in Malibu to celebrate the potent seedlings he planted last fall, now blossomed and smokable, with Jonas Wood and Benny Blanco lounging on the dope couches Prince made with collector and designer Darren Romanelli ***

PARTING SHOT

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Magnum Photos Is Threatening Legal Action Against a Streetwear Company That Used Its Images for a New Clothing Line


Magnum Photos is threatening legal action against a streetwear company that released—and quickly withdrew—a new clothing line featuring documentary images from the photography cooperative’s archives, along with its logo.

The clothing company Richardson briefly marketed t-shirts, hoodies, and jacket with images by photographers Danny Lyon, Gilles Peress, Antoine D’Agata, and Hiroji Kubota. Among the pictures used was one of a Irish Republican Army (IRA) soldier after Bloody Sunday, as well as other charged documentary images of other historical conflicts.

Other items of clothing feature a Lyon photograph of prisoners in a Texas penitentiary, and a Kubota shot of three members of the Black Panther party standing in a snowy Chicago rail yard.

“Our representatives have initiated legal action regarding this matter to protect the intellectual property rights of Magnum and its photographers, so we cannot comment further at this time,” a Magnum spokesperson told Midnight Publishing Group News.

Andrew Richardson, the designer behind the label, says the collection was conceived as a companion to his art and erotica magazine, which was founded in the late 1990s. The Peress photograph was published in the third issue, while other pictures by Danny Lyon and D’Agata have also appeared in the magazine. 

Kubota, the only artist not to have been featured in the magazine, signed off on the capsule collection and “contacted Magnum with praise and excitement about the finished products,” according to the publisher. 

“As a brand that started as a magazine, the relationship between the images we feature in our clothes and the texts we have published is perhaps more complex than other streetwear brand,” Richardson added. “But we feel it is these interdiscursive conversations that weave our brand together as a whole.”

Richardson previously worked with Magnum on a clothing capsule pegged to the agency’s anniversary in 2017. Magnum’s logo was included on that line, which is why he says the current legal dispute came as a surprise.

For Richardson, the inclusion of Magnum’s images was meant to be generative, not exploitative.

“Once we have paid the cost of licensing the images and the cost of manufacture these, kinds of capsules are not really serving ‘commercial purposes,’” he says. “This project is not meant to capitalize on photo documentarians. To the contrary, we feel that we offer a unique venue for these wonderful images and artists to be rediscovered, and to circulate as part of a contemporary conversation that they are certainly relevant to, but often excluded from.”

The dispute comes amid a thorny, months-long controversy over Magnum’s archive and the way the cooperative chooses to license its images.

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A Battle in the Legal War Over Robert Indiana’s Legacy Ends as His Estate Settles With the Artist’s Longtime Representative


One chapter in the protracted legal battle over the legacy of the late Pop artist Robert Indiana has come to a close.

Last week, Indiana’s estate reached a out-of-court settlement with the artist’s longtime representative and holder of his copyrights, the Morgan Art Foundation, and the organization that oversees his former home, the Star of Hope Foundation.

According to a notice filed in a New York district court, the agreement “should fully resolve all claims” in the knotty case, which included allegations of defamation, breach of contract, copyright infringement, and violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act.

Details of the deal, however, were not revealed. The Morgan Art Foundation’s lawyers declined to comment when reached by Midnight Publishing Group News, and the Star of Hope Foundation did not immediately respond to email.

“The parties are conferring about a joint submission to the court to set forth their positions regarding next steps in the case,” the filing read.

On May 18, 2018, just one day before Indiana’s death at age 89, the Morgan Art Foundation filed a federal lawsuit against New York-based publisher Michael McKenzie and the artist’s caretaker, Jamie Thomas, alleging that they conspired to isolate the artist from his family and friends and make illegal artworks in Indiana’s name.

Robert Indiana's Vinalhaven home, Star of Hope. May, 2018. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette, Portland Press Herald via Getty Images.

Robert Indiana’s Vinalhaven home, Star of Hope. May, 2018. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette, Portland Press Herald via Getty Images.

McKenzie’s name was noticeably absent from the document submitted to court this month. According to the Portland Press Herald, he remains in a legal battle with both the estate and the Morgan Art Foundation. 

An arbitration hearing between McKenzie and the Indiana estate is set for March 22 in New York, where a judge will weigh in on McKenzie’s right to continue to create and sell editions of Indiana’s works, including his iconic HOPE sculptures. McKenzie contends that the agreement he forged with Indiana continues past the artist’s death, but the estate has argued otherwise, saying the publisher violated the contract.

“If they do not make a settlement with us, we will assert our rights in arbitration with the estate to continue making HOPE sculptures, and we will continue the litigation with Morgan in federal court,” McKenzie’s lawyer told the Herald

“What is mind-boggling about it is that everybody should know the fact that Michael McKenzie made $10 million for Robert Indiana on the HOPE sculptures and is willing to continue doing so and in fact claims he has a right to do so,” the lawyer went on. “Why they wouldn’t want that income stream to continue is something we can’t understand. It makes no sense to us.”

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From Nick Cave’s Legal Victory to the Death of Old Master Dealer Richard Feigen: The Best and Worst of the Art World This Week


Nick Cave Wins Bizarre Court Battle – The upstate New York village of Kinderhook ruled that artist Cave’s text-based installation on the facade of Jack Shainman’s gallery is, in fact, art, not signage.

Doig Meets Dior – A new collaboration features Peter Doig’s quirky painting on Kim Jones’s fall-spring collection for Dior.

Angelina Jolie Is Selling a Very Historic Painting – The actress has consigned Winston Churchill’s only wartime painting, which he once gifted to FDR, at Christie’s, where it could fetch more than $3 million.

Mummy Money – Archaeologists in Egypt unearthed mummies dating back 2,000 years buried with gold tongues.

Inside the Outsider Art Fair – One of New York’s only IRL art fairs successfully took place in a satellite format across multiple galleries—despite a pandemic and raging snow storm.

Up Next – Which artists are poised to make it big in 2021? We asked curators, dealers, and collectors for their picks.

Influencer-Approved – A cheeky artist devised a satirical scheme to offer IRL blue “Twitter-approved” checkmarks to the homes of San Francisco influencers, and a lot of people signed up for real.

Gee’s Bend Gets a Big Platform – The colorful handmade quilts are being sold online for the first time in a new partnership with Etsy.

Sterling Ruby Makes Fashion History – The multidisciplinary artist is the first American to show a couture collection at Paris Fashion Week in 10 years.

Germany Boosts Culture, Again – The country approved yet another €1 billion in aid for the ailing cultural sector.

Emma Amos Gets Her Due – The late artist is the subject of an exhibition that finally shows the depth and breadth of her striking work.

 

Guerrilla Girls Cut Ties With Publisher – The activist artist group called off their book deal with Phaidon over the company’s links to Leon Black.

Remembering a Master Old Master Dealer – Art-world remembrances poured in for the late art collector and Old Master dealer Richard Feigen, who died this week at age 90.

Museum Directors Call to Reopen – More than 100 museum directors and curators in France are calling on the culture minister to reopen art institutions, claiming their work is a necessary public good.

US Supreme Court Rules Against Heirs – The court denied Jewish heirs’ request to reclaim the staggering $250 million Guelph Treasure from Germany in a landmark decision.

Faux Fabergé – An exhibition at Russia’s Hermitage Museum is filled with “tawdry fakes” passing for the real objets d’art, according to a scholar.

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