Upper West Side art collector Eric Walters is accusing the Richard Avedon Foundation of making it difficult for him to sell a $15,000 nude photo of ballet star Rudolf Nureyev taken by the renowned photographer Avedon.
“Christie’s held onto the photo for five months, then told me that the estate claimed the photo was a gift from Avedon to Nureyev and that’s why (Christie’s) couldn’t sell it,” he claims.
But after the Christie’s appraiser who allegedly said that to Walters left the company last year, Walters says, her replacement simply said the photo wasn’t an item of interest to them anymore.
Walters finds that confusing because he says he bought the photo for $1,200 at a Christie’s auction in 1995 and has documentation that supports his claim.
“It’s still in the same box that it was in when Christie’s sold it to me,” he says.
Walters also showed us a text from another prominent art dealer who tells him that the litigious Avedon Foundation scares dealers like himself away from photos like this one. Walters says the foundation of using “strong-arm tactics” to control the marketplace when it comes to Avedon’s photos.
Avedon Foundation spokesman James Martin says otherwise.
“The foundation does not care about the sale of this print, nor have we ever cared about the sale of this print,” he said.
Avedon himself seemingly had no objection when the snapshot was originally auctioned by Nureyev’s estate after the dancer’s 1993 death, according to Walters. Walters, a former model who worked with Avedon on a Versace campaign in the ’80s, says he even called the photographer and asked if he’d sign it, but Avedon said, “I don’t believe you have it.”
According to a Nureyev biography written by Julie Kavanagh, the photos were taken during a night of heavy drinking, and the embarrassed ballet dancer went back to Avedon later asking if he could have the negatives. Avedon himself never published the nude photo.
The Avedon Foundation has been famously protective of the artist’s work since his 2004 death, which has reportedly included threatening former Avedon assistants with legal action when they’ve tried publishing photos that were allegedly given to them by their former boss.
A collection of Avedon’s work is currently on display at Guild Hall in East Hampton.
Reps for Christie’s did not get back to Confidential.
With Brian Niemietz