An alleged standoff between members of the board of Marlborough Gallery, one of New York’s most esteemed art spaces, and the family that runs the enterprise has resulted in a lawsuit.
Dealer Max Levai, who formerly served as the gallery’s president, has sued Marlborough Gallery and two of its board members, Stanley N. Bergman and Franz Plutschow, accusing them of having led a “scheme” that involved alleged attempts to ruin his reputation and hack his Instagram account. The suit was filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York on Tuesday.
“The Company and defendants Bergman and Plutschow’s defamatory statements have harmed [Levai] by causing, among other things, third parties to refuse to engage in any new business dealings with plaintiff, lost revenue and profits, increased expenses, legal fees, and costs expended to mitigate the impact of the Company and defendants Bergman and Plutschow’s dishonesty,” the suit reads. Levai is seeking at least $10.8 million in damages.
Marc E. Kasowitz, a lawyer representing Levai, said in a statement, “The Marlborough Gallery, Stanley Bergman, and Franz Plutschow have egregiously sought to destroy Max Levai’s exceptional reputation and career. We look forward to vindicating our client’s reputation in court and holding them accountable for the damage they have caused.”
A representative for Marlborough Gallery did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The news comes as Marlborough Gallery, which first opened in London in 1940 and expanded to New York 23 years later, is in the midst of a period of rapid change. This past June, just a year after plans to consolidate its New York galleries at an expanded Chelsea space were announced, Marlborough said it was closing down its operations in the city permanently.
Levai, who was then president of Marlborough, claimed in a statement that the decision to do so had been made while his father Pierre Levai, chairman of the gallery’s board, had been hospitalized and “incapacitated” while battling the coronavirus. According to an Artnet News report in June, a scuttled attempt to expand Marlborough into an adjacent space previous operated by Cheim & Read gallery heightened tensions between the Levais and the board. “My top priority is to protect our artists and their work,” Max Levai said at the time.
Max Levai’s lawsuit alleges that Marlborough is, in fact, not closed. It claims that four artists and estates that Marlborough works with—Tom Otterness, Ahmed Alsoudani, the George Rickey Estate, and Richard Estes—told Max Levai that its operations were still running. A Marlborough representative did not respond to a request to confirm whether the New York arm of the gallery’s business was operational.
According to the lawsuit, once Marlborough shuttered in June, Max Levai approached the board with a proposal to acquire works in Marlborough’s holdings, so that he could sell them at his own business, Alone Gallery in Wainscott, New York. After that, the board “ceased all engagement” with Max Levai and then “set out to destroy [his] reputation.” Max Levai claims that, as part of that campaign, the gallery seized control of his personal Instagram account. He also claims that the gallery has “failed” to return “approximately 25 works, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars” that are his property.
Marlborough has long been considered one of the top art galleries in New York. On its website, it lists Frank Auerbach, Alice Aycock, Red Grooms, R. B. Kitaj, Paula Rego, and more on its roster.