Artist, dealer in court battle over artworks

Last updated 05:00 12/01/2014

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A leading New Zealand artist is suing his long-time dealer over more than $700,000 worth of disputed sales and commissions.

Stephen Bambury, who shows extensively in Europe and has works hanging in Te Papa, split with trans-Tasman art dealer Andrew Jensen in August 2010.

Court documents show Bambury filed a raft of claims against Jensen, the operator of Jensen Gallery in Sydney and the co-owner of Fox Jensen in Auckland. Bambury claimed Jensen received a host of works from him that were not accounted for when their arrangement ended.

Eleven of the disputed works, ranging in value from $7200 to $18,000 and totalling $118,900, were allegedly received by Jensen's gallery between January 1995 and August 2007. Bambury claimed the works were neither returned to him, nor was a commission paid if they were sold.

He also alleged that Jensen, with another person, bought a work called Ideogram II from him in 1996.

Bambury said Jensen was aware public galleries were interested in buying the work and that he on-sold it to Auckland Art Gallery in 1998 for a profit of $14,000, violating the terms of their contract that he "not make a profit, including not to purchase the plaintiff's works himself with the intention of investing in them to sell for his own benefit".

The artist claimed he had not been told of, or paid commission on, the sale of another 15 works.

Although two of those works had their values deleted from court documents, the other 13 had a combined value of $141,800.

Bambury further alleged underpayment of commissions on six works with a total value of just over $250,000.

Court documents were edited to prevent knowledge of the commissions Jensen charged.

An industry insider said the typical rate was between 30 and 40 per cent.

By 2006, on the back of shows in Australia, Germany and Austria, Bambury was selling works such as his Chinese Whispers II - a large resin and graphite work on aluminium - for $150,000. The industry insider, who declined to be named, said over the years Jensen "made Stephen Bambury's work worth a hell of a lot of money".

Jensen's statement of defence disputed Bambury's allegation, saying the commissions had either been paid in full or used to off-set other debts the artist owed the gallery.

Other causes of action included: an allegation that Jensen paid Bambury a commission on a price lower than the work actually sold for; that Jensen improperly took a commission on an insurance payout from a damaged work, and that he underpaid him or did not pay him on two other works that were damaged.

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Bambury also sued for alleged unpaid compensation from a printing venture between the two and for paying a website developer with one of Bambury's works that he did not own.

Jensen denied the allegations and said most of the claims were, in any case, brought out of time, occurring more than six years before the commencement of the claim.

He counter-sued for unpaid commissions from two works sold by the artist directly, interest and costs.

Bambury declined to comment to the Star-Times as the case was before the courts.

- Sunday Star Times

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