Long-Running Legal Drama Over Franz West’s Estate Ends With All Works Donated to His Foundation

A years-long legal battle in Austria over the estate of the famed sculptor Franz West concluded last month, with all of the artworks in it donated to the Franz West Private Foundation, the organization managing the artist’s legacy that is represented by Gagosian, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, and Galerie Bärbel Grässlin.

The drama over West’s art began not long after he died in 2012 and has involved two conflicting entities: the Franz West Private Foundation, which the artist formed during his final days, and the Franz West Archive, which was established during the late ’90s. After West’s death, the Franz West Archive began seeking control of his art, launching a number of lawsuits against the foundation, which is directed by his former studio manager.

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West is considered a crucial figure in recent art history, with his work notably receiving a retrospective at Tate Modern in 2018. Many of his works bridge the gap between sculpture and design, showing where distinctions between the two fall apart.

An ongoing legal saga has embroiled West’s legacy for much of the past decade. Those close to him have debated whether the foundation really obeyed the artist’s wishes, and Austrian courts have even scrutinized the structure of the organization, with the country’s Supreme Court even dismissing its board in 2016 after accusing some of its members of paying themselves “suspicious” six-figure sums.

Much of the legal action has centered around whether West’s family should have the rights to his art. Tamuna Sirbiladze, West’s widow, sued the foundation, claiming that she and her children owned his work, not the foundation. She died in 2016, as legal claims continued to pend. The year afterward, a court ruled that the foundation had been formed without a proper contract.

But according to the Art Newspaper, the new court decision now grants more control to the foundation. The court reportedly has named West’s sister, Anne Gutjahr, who died in 2021, as his legal successor, meaning that his children did not have the rights to his work. She had called for the estate to be transferred to the foundation prior to her passing.

Because West’s current galleries will still be able to sell his art through the arrangement, the new decision is important for a gallery as large as Gagosian, which will be allowed to keep West on its roster. In 2001, Gagosian famously lured West away from David Zwirner, the dealer that had helped make the sculptor famous.

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