How much can I sue for for a piece of art that should now be higher in value then when I purchased it. but is essentially worthless due to the art gallery’s actions?

UPDATED: Mar 29, 2012

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How much can I sue for for a piece of art that should now be higher in value then when I purchased it. but is essentially worthless due to the art gallery’s actions?

I made an agreement with a gallery to buy a piece of art just over 5 years ago. Payments were not completed until almost 2 years later; art was shipped to me shortly before then.. The art piece did not have a signed label from the artist. I have asked the gallery many times for one. The last email I have was from 2 1/2 years ago; the gallery said they were working on getting me a label. Still., I do not have; in fact the gallery now refuses to send a label. Can I sue them for the current value of the art piece or only for the original purchase price? The art is essentially worthless without the label and I cannot sell to anyone.

Asked on March 29, 2012 under Business Law, Arizona


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Assuming that either the agreement or terms of sale stated that you would get the label from the artist (or that you can show it was represented to you, prior to you purchasing the art, that you would get the label, and that representation or promise was a material inducement, or key part of, you deciding to buy the art), then you should be able to sue for either 1) specific performance--a court order requiring the gallery to provide the label; 2) for the difference in value between what the art would be worth with the label and the greater of what it's worth without or your purchase price; or 3) to rescind the transaction and get your money back.

Obviously, you could get 1) only if the gallery could provide the label--they have the label, or the artist is alive and willing to provide one. You should be able to get 2) if 1) is not possible or feasible, unless it turns out that the art is a fraud or forgery of some kind (i.e. not what it was represented to be); in that case, there is no real market for or value to it, and the most you could likely get is 3) a return of your money.

Note that to get 2), you'd have to be able to show, by expert testimony (e.g. art appraisers) what the art should be  worth.

Assuming you are potentially talking about several thousand dollars or more, it is worth it for you to consult with an attorney. Do so immediately; there is a time limit ("statute of limitations") on how long you have to sue, and once too much time has passed, you may no longer bring a legal action. Good luck.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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