James Turrell’s Tall Glass Half Full

Walter Bieri/Keystone, via Associated Press The artist James Turrell, who has negotiated a legal settlement with the Albion Gallery.
Walter Bieri/Keystone, via Associated Press The artist James Turrell, who has negotiated a legal settlement with the Albion Gallery.

Often disputes between artists and dealers can turn into something like a divorce with all the same spoilage. The one between James Turrell, and Michael Hue-Williams of Albion gallery displays several kinds of ugly, fouled-up business, soiled reputations, career sabotage, and — sigh– lots of compromise.

If a dealer thinks an artist is not delivering on a commission, he can bring the artist to court, for instance. as Hue-Williams did to Turrell in 2007.

And if an artist thinks a dealer is selling pieces that he was not consulted about or paid for, he can counter-sue, as Turrell did to Hue-Williams.

Now when a dealer is miffed and spending money on litigation, he may take a the semi-self-sabotaging action of selling the artist’s work off at auction to make the artist look bad. This is what Michael Hue-Williams hinted at in a 2008 e-mail.

Relations can get increasingly ugly on all sides, as they did when buyers who were not getting the artwork they thought they’d paid for put pressure on the gallery.

In such a case all parties will benefit when there’s a settlement. Which is what happened when a long series of litigious engagements ended with an agreement between Mr. Turrell and Mr. Hue-Williams last week.

Tall Glass
Tall Glass, LED light works by James Turrell

Mr. Hue-Williams had to eat some crow: had to write letters to collectors who thought they’d purchased works from Turrell’s ‘Tall Glass‘ series. He had to admit that the artist had not been paid, and he had to refund the money for all but one of the orders he had originally sued Turrell for.

Mr. Turrell had to pay Mr. Hue-Williams $125,000 in commissions toward two pieces that Albion gallery had sold without follow-through from Mr. Turrell. Turrell also agreed to turn over authenticating documents and titles that he had been witholding.

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