Million dollar law suit against Getty

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by Annika Backe
translated by Christina Schlögl

March 23, 2017 – A scandalous law suit has been filed against the world famous Los Angeles Getty Museum, its curator Timothy Potts and the J. Paul Getty Trust. A converted amount of 73 million dollars has been claimed by the Swiss antiquities dealer Phoenix Ancient Art. The accusation: Getty supposedly violated a contractual agreement that made Phoenix the sole agent to negotiate the purchase of antique statues from the Torlonia collection.

The motion of 12 January 2017 refers to a contract from 2013. According to Phoenix, the Getty Museum committed to refraining from direct contact with the Italian Torlonia family or discussing the exhibition rights and the potential purchase of parts of their collection of 620 antique statues. The Torlonias, who came to great prosperity as bankers of the Vatican in the 18th and 19th century, had been searching a buyer for their collection. It had not been publicly exhibited since the 1960s. 

Difficult preparations

Consequently, Phoenix and its agent Electrum had spent years working on a good relationship to the Torlonias. This building of trust – as well as the contract with Getty itself – had been necessary due to the American institution’s bad reputation for their acquisitions of dubious origin. Before Phoenix had started mediating, this reputation had also stopped the Italian government from negotiating with the Getty.

All for nothing?

When the tension had lifted, Phoenix claims, the middleman was sidelined. The Getty however emphasises that it turned down an offer to purchase from 2015 – thus Phoenix’ accusations were groundless, since there never was a deal. Phoenix on the other hand considers this a tactical move, enabling the Getty to go behind their back during new negotiations. 

Which points of the 38-page motion will endure? That is left to the court in New York. 

You will find the homepage of Phoenix Ancient Art here. 

This is the online presence of the Getty.

You can download the statement of claim here.

And here is a short article on the recent return of a stolen statue to the Torlonia collection.