A New York art collector is seeking information related to the return of his Andy Warhol painting, which he claims was stolen by his lawyer—whom he is now suing for $10m.
In a lawsuit filed 17 April in New York Supreme Court, Stuart Pivar, a co-founder of the New York Academy of Art and longtime friend of Warhol, accused lawyer Mitchell Cantor of absconding with his painting and of professional negligence and malpractice. Pivar claims that he sold Cantor the painting, a 1977 portrait of Pivar, for $100,000, although he has valued it at $5m. The two men had entered into a repurchase agreement last September that allowed Pivar to buy back the work for $150,000, but Cantor failed to honour that option, the lawsuit claims.
Pivar says he sold the work to Cantor, his representative on legal matters since 2019, because he was in need of fast cash. “Something came up, I needed $100,000 right away to buy something—it was probably a $10m thing, which I was buying for a fraction,” he says, adding that he could not remember what it was. He attempted to redeem the painting in March but Cantor told him it “is long gone,” according to the lawsuit.
“The question is, how does a guy like me come to do such a dumb thing as to borrow $100,000 from his own lawyer, who he already knows is, how should I say, irregular, and the worst happens?” Pivar says. “The answer is that I have done this kind of thing one hundred times, but in this particular case, it’s also at the top of the list of dumb injudicious things that I ever did.”
Cantor, whose business Concordia Fine Art is also named as a defendant in Pivar’s suit, said in an emailed statement, “Mr. Pivar is known for making delusional claims, inventing causes of action and completely ignoring facts.” He did not respond to questions about the painting’s whereabouts.
This is not the first time that Pivar has accused a lawyer of his of art theft. In 2019, he filed a $200m lawsuit against his lawyer John McFadden, claiming that McFadden had tricked him into selling a Constantin Brancusi sculpture for only $100,000. The two men had signed a contract stating that the statue would be sold to either Christie’s or the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where McFadden claimed he was a trustee, but Pivar contends that McFadden deceived him and kept the work for himself. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, McFadden maintained that Pivar needed quick cash and could not find another buyer in part due to his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, whom Pivar described in a Mother Jones interview as “my best pal for decades”.
Pivar tells The Art Newspaper that he “stopped knowing [Epstein] in 1990” and that he has trouble selling art because he sued Sotheby’s for $2bn in 2020. “I was advised that Sotheby’s would not sell anything from my collection including properties I bought from Sotheby’s over 50 years, nor would my bids be accepted at any Sotheby’s sale,” Pivar says. “No reason was given to explain this historically unique dictum.” A spokesperson for the auction house said that the suit was dismissed in court.
In 2021, Pivar sued the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam over its refusal to authenticate a painting he says he found and identified as a work by Vincent van Gogh. A New York federal judge dismissed the case in March 2022.
The art collector is offering a reward of “indemnification and a surfeit of gratitude” for the safe return of his Warhol portrait.