Art | August 23, 2017 11:28 am

Artist Dale Chihuly Faces Million-Dollar Lawsuit From Acolyte

A former contractor says he was not fully credited or compensated for paintings he created.

A former contractor has sued artist Dale Chihuly and his wife Leslie, who is the president and chief executive of Chihuly Studio, for compensation for millions of dollars. The contractor says that he created or inspired paintings for which he was never properly credited or compensated, reports The New York Times

The Times writes that the Chihuly way was making art in a crowd, with a crowd. Jeffrey Beers, now 60 and an architect in New York, remembers a time when he would get calls from Chihuly about pre-dawn glassblowing sessions. Chihuly has gained recognition and success for his expensive glass works, sculptures, and paintings, all which for millions of dollars. The studio creates some 30 site-specific pieces a year and has done commissions for collectors like Bill Gates and Bill Clinton.

Chihuly has stopped his hands-on work as he now faces mental health issues and old physical injuries. He lost vision in one eye in a 1976 car crash, according to the Times, which also permanently injured an ankle and foot. He also suffers from a shoulder injury and bipolar disorder. He says that all this has caused a great dependence on others, which came with a greater vulnerability to claims like the one he is currently facing from the former contractor Michael Moi, that his work is not his own.

“Yeah, I would say it probably made it easier to attack me,” he said to the Times. “I absolutely need my teams.”

Chihuly says Moi was a handyman. Moi’s lawsuit says that “exploitation and uncredited work were built into the Chihuly team system” and Chihuly’s mental swings were part of the “unpredictable dynamic of how and when work got done, and who did it.”

He also claims that the level of Chihuly’s disabilities were never disclosed to art buyers or the public, and that the “Chihuly Studio often intimated that Chihuly’s paintings were entirely by his own hand.”

Legal experts say that claims of inadequate credit by an underling are generally tough. Courts require proof that the person who filed for the work’s copyright — Chihuly — intended to share the credit of authorship, reports the Times. 

Christine Steiner, a lawyer in Los Angeles who represents galleries, artists and museums, but does not work for Chihuly, told the Times that she doesn’t think anyone would have assumed Chihuly did all his own work because there’s too much of it.

But no matter what, this case opens up an “uncomfortable and complicated debate about age, infirmity and the foibles of human nature where one person is in control, egos are large, and vast fortunes are being made,” writes the Times.