Stuart Pivar has been a fixture of the New York art market for decades. He’s been in the news for various reasons, from his behavior to his lawsuits. And now he’s hit us with another one. Pivar is now suing his lawyer for allegedly stealing a portrait of himself created by Andy Warhol in 1977.
After founding a successful plastics company in the late 1950s, he became one of New York’s most prominent collectors. In the 1970s, he befriended Andy Warhol, who operated his workshop, The Factory, near Union Square. They walked through thrift stores and flea markets, trying to find subjects for Warhol’s works. Though his friendship with Warhol is one of the most notable parts of his biography, Pivar is mainly known as a collector of nineteenth-century realist art at a time when that market wasn’t at its strongest. In fact, he provided much of the financial backing for the New York Academy of Art when it was founded in 1980 to promote contemporary realist art.
According to court documents, Pivar sold the portrait to his attorney, Michael Cantor, for $100K. Pivar claims he was strapped for cash and agreed to sell the work to Cantor. According to Pivar, the arrangement was for Cantor to buy the painting so Pivar could buy it back for $150K within one hundred eighty days. Pivar estimates that his portrait is worth around $6M and is now seeking $10M in damages for “professional negligence and malpractice”. He claims to have arrived at that number based on Warhol’s portrait of Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry, which sold at Sotheby’s London this past March for a hammer price of £5.5M (or $6.6M).
This is not the first time Pivar has gotten into a legal spat. In 2020, he hit Sotheby’s with a $2B lawsuit after they banned him from buying, selling, or bidding through them. Similar to his ongoing suit, he sued lawyer John McFadden for allegedly tricking him into selling a Brancusi sculpture for $100K when sculptures of similar quality go for millions at auction. In 2019, he claimed to own an original painting by Vincent van Gogh. The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam disputed its authenticity after viewing photos that Pivar had emailed them, leading Pivar to sue the museum for $300M. All these lawsuits were eventually dismissed. All of this is evidence in favor of Cantor, who claims Pivar is “known for making delusional claims, inventing causes of action and completely ignoring facts.” As his former lawyer, I don’t know of anyone better suited to make such an assessment.
Given Stuart Pivar’s history of filing frivolous lawsuits that are always dismissed, I don’t think it’s too difficult to draw your own conclusions about his most recent escapade.