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“Die Hard” producer Joel Silver is now the second big-money art investor to charge in court that he was swindled out of millions by renowned sculptor Jeff Koons and gallery bigwig Larry Gagosian, paying millions for works he never received.
In his new Manhattan Supreme Court filing, Silver says he shelled out $3.2 million for an iconic Koons “Balloon” sculpture that he never received.
Silver – who produced the first two “Die Hard films as well as “The Matrix” trilogy and “Lethal Weapon” in his 40-plus-year career – claims Koons and Gagosian reneged on a February 2014 agreement to purchase a “Balloon Venus Hohlen Fels” for $8 million.
In the lawsuit filed Monday, the South Orange, New Jersey, native says his case is nearly identical to that of multimillionaire hedge fund manager Steven Tananbaum, who filed a lawsuit April 19 claiming Koons and Gagosian were running an art-based “Ponzi” scheme.
Tananbaum paid more than $13 million toward three sculptures, worth $22.5 million, that he says he never received, including a “Balloon Venus” in magenta.
Like Tananbaum, who plunked down for a “Balloon Venus” in magenta, Silver commissioned a similar version of the 8.5-foot-by-5.4-foot stainless steel sculpture in yellow for $8 million, yet never received any proof that the piece was in the works, his suit says .
Gagosian Gallery gave a completion date of June 2017, then pushed it back by two years to July 2019 after Silver paid the $3.2 million “because of purported difficulties in completing a ‘digital model,’” the suit says.
A fed-up Silver demanded a refund.
“The Gagosian Gallery refused, however, and threatened instead to forfeit the $3.2 million unless Plaintiff Silver agreed to continue making payments on a schedule revised to incorporate the delayed completion date,” the suit says.
At risk of losing the $3.2 million, Silver agreed last July to pay three installments of $1.6 million with a new estimated completion date of December 2020.
But after he failed to pay the first $1.6 million, Gagosian Gallery pushed back the completion date again to August 2020, then later demanded he make the payment immediately while holding the $3.2 “hostage,” the suit says.
The gallery also turned down Silver’s offer to put $2.4 million in escrow and pay the remaining balance upon delivery of the sculpture and demanded the $1.6 million again, the suit says.
A day before Silver was due to make the payment, Tananbaum filed his suit which “described conduct [Silver] had long suspected,” the complaint says.
Silver’s suit alleges Koons and Gagosian Gallery simultaneously jerked him and Tananbaum around by giving them conflicting completion dates.
After receiving $4.8 million in payments from Tananbaum, the gallery informed him his “Balloon Venus,” which was purchased in September 2013, would be done in June 2018 — while at the same time telling Silver his sculpture would be completed June 2017, even though it was purchased five months after Tananbaum’s.
“Mr. Tananbaum’s allegations reinforced Plaintiff Silver’s suspicions that the millions he had paid to the Gagosian Gallery in 2014 and 2015 had not been used to fabricate his sculpture and that there would be even further delays in the completion of his Balloon Venus,” the suit says.
Silver is suing to get his $3.2 million back and for an additional $6.6 million for Gagosian’s alleged violation of York’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Law.
His suit does not name Koons as a defendant.
A woman who answered the phone at Koons’ gallery said, “We’re not commenting.”
A spokeswoman for Gagosian didn’t immediately return a message.
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