New York City collector Stuart Pivar thinks he got suckered, and on July 16 he filed a lawsuit in Supreme Court of the State of New York against attorney John McFadden. The case revolves around the sculpture Mlle. Pogany II by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957).
According to court papers, in April 2019 McFadden agreed to act as Pivar’s family counsel and organize a foundation for his art collection. In May McFadden allegedly represented to Pivar that the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) was interested in acquiring Mlle. Pogany II, which Pivar owned.
Court papers charge that to consummate the sale, McFadden would “authenticate, establish title to, and appraise” the Brancusi and offer it to the Philadelphia Museum of Art or to Christie’s “under his own name.”
According to the lawsuit, on May 16 McFadden presented Pivar with a contract in which Pivar agreed to sell McFadden the sculpture for $100,000 “as part of the aforesaid plan.” Court papers allege that McFadden explained that the contract was needed so that “he could offer the statue for sale under his own name for reasons that would be advantageous to both.”
Signing the agreement “had to do with the desire to offer these things in his name instead of my own which was the original premises of why we did this. It’s a normal thing, done by attorneys for various reasons—a normal customary thing. As far as the value, we both knew what it was. This was a perfunctory transaction,” Pivar told M.A.D.
“When your attorney says sign here, what do you do?” he continued.
According to Pivar, the Brancusi was shown to a curator at the PMA.
When Pivar e-mailed several days later to inquire how the sale was progressing, he was allegedly told that “the deal was final and that the sculpture would remain in [McFadden’s] possession forever.”
The contract, said Pivar, was a simple sentence and was equivalent “more or less to a bill of sale.” Pivar stated that he does not have a copy of the contract.
Pivar alleged that both parties knew the sculpture was “worth many times $100,000.00, but in reliance on Defendant’s representations that the contract was necessary to consummate the sale to the museum, Plaintiff signed the relevant contract.”
Another bronze version of Mlle. Pogany II sold in 1997 at Christie’s for $7,042,500.
Pivar is alleging “theft by deception and a fraud ab initio.” Pivar is asking for $200 million: $100 million for the loss of property and $100 million for the loss of income by the sale of property by tortious interference, plus the costs of the lawsuit.
Originally published in the September 2019 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2019 Maine Antique Digest