In a new lawsuit related to the ongoing saga surrounding Inigo Philbrick, who has been indicted on wire fraud and identity theft charges, two companies are fighting to take ownership of a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting that once passed through the young art dealer’s hands. The lawsuit was filed in New York’s Southern District Court on June 2 by Athena Art Finance, a New York–based art lending company that claims it should own the painting.
The suit was initially filed against the Basquiat painting itself, a 1982 work titled Humidity that sold for $10.2 million at Phillips auction house in New York in 2012 and figured in a 2019 show of Basquiat’s work at the Mori Arts Centre Gallery in Tokyo.
In the initial complaint, Athena asked that the court grant it ownership of the Basquiat, so that it could sell it. According to the complaint, Athena is currently storing the Basquiat work in a facility in New York.
Since the initial complaint was filed, Satfinance Investment Ltd., a business entity operated by Aleksandar Pesko, said in a related court document that it acquired the painting in 2016 for $12.2 million and then entered into an agreement to sell it to Philbrick. That transaction had been the subject of a previous filing in London’s High Court in which Satfinance Investment Ltd. claimed that Philbrick misled the company, allegedly falsely representing how much he would pay for the painting in such a way as to grant himself a greater ownership stake in it.
In 2017, according to Athena’s filing, the company entered into a loan with 18 Boxwood Green Limited, a business owned by Philbrick, in which the Basquiat painting played a role. Philbrick’s business subsequently defaulted on the loan.
Satfinance is now alleging that Athena Art Finance did not do its due diligence in vetting Philbrick’s history when taking out the loan and that it “refuses” to return the work. Judd Grossman, a lawyer representing Satfinance, told ARTnews, “We are entirely confident in Satfinance’s ownership claim; Athena’s attempt to try to force the immediate sale of this stolen painting before a court can adjudicate these competing claims is unprecedented.”
Wendy Lindstrom, a lawyer representing Athena, told ARTnews in a statement, “Athena performed exhaustive due diligence in its loan underwriting process and has always maintained possession and control of the Basquiat. In contrast, Satfinance continues to rely on and trust Philbrick even after his indictment for multiple crimes, including those related to the loan.”
Philbrick was charged last month with wire fraud and identity theft charges amid a still-churning legal scandal. The dealer has been the subject of various lawsuits in which various enterprises claim that Philbrick obscured details related to sales and withheld artworks subject to various deals.