With all the trouble that Nello Balan has gotten himself into (being fined for bringing a frivolous lawsuit; getting sued for tip skimming; getting closed by the tax man; being scolded for possibly fudging the details of a gossip item), you may not remember his dispute with Jerome Lucani, who accused Balan of stealing art that he created for the walls of Nello (Balan later filed a criminal complaint against Lucani for threatening to burn down his restaurant). Now, two years later, we’ve learned that the artist has filed a $1.8 million lawsuit against Balan.
According to the complaint, which you can see below, Balan agreed to pay $50,000 for eleven celebrity-photo collages and to give Lucani a 60 percent cut of sales. After the works were delivered, Balan told customers that he was the artist and then asked Lucani to agree to pay $500,000 and take a 50-50 split. The suit alleges that when Lucani refused, Balan wouldn’t give his art back, and ended up selling at least ten of the pieces. Lucani’s lawyer, Bradley S. Leinhardt, tells us his client has seen “zero” money and says, “Nello took it out of storage this summer and thought he could sell it behind Jerome’s back”; the artist, who had gone back to Paris, found out about it only after a friend spotted one of the works going for approximately $100,000 at the Keszler Gallery. “They were stolen from him and his reputation was irreparably damaged,” says Leinhardt, who is seeking over $1.8 million for his client and says he intends to see the case through till the end.
When asked about the matter, Nello gave us a very curt, “No comment. That’s my art.” No one at the Keszler Gallery was available for comment.
Lucani v. Balan [PDF]