News
Law

Judge orders Mana Fine Arts to release Mugrabis’ entire ‘hostage’ art collection

The family plans to relocate all 1,400-objects to Crozier’s storage facility in New Jersey

Alberto Mugrabi and David Mugrabi Clint Spaulding/PatrickMcMullan.com

Mana Fine Arts, an art storage complex in New Jersey, has been ordered by a New York judge to turn over the Mugrabi family’s entire 1,400-piece art collection, including works by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Tom Wesselmann and Damien Hirst. The court order filed on Wednesday, 8 November, follows the granting of a preliminary injunction filed by the Mugrabis against Mana, which they say is holding the collection hostage over disputed back storage fees, bringing their business to a standstill and preventing them from either selling or showing the art. “The warehouse has to deliver all the art that they have to the Mugrabis now,” says the family’s lawyer, Aaron Richard Golub, calling the decision “a major remedy”.

In his order, Judge Edgardo Ramos says that the Mugrabis had shown they would “suffer real, imminent and irreparable injury in the absence of a preliminary injunction”. Last month, the family secured the release of five works, including some that were due to be lent out for exhibitions at New York museums. The Mugrabis can now reclaim all the objects stored at Mana and they intend to relocate their collection to a facility in New Jersey run by Crozier Fine Art, Golub says. The works should be removed from Mana’s warehouse no later than 13 November, he adds. Which party foots the bill for the transfer will be decided later in court, as the civil case continues.

In its opposing arguments, Mana had sought to use a law that protects warehouses from delinquent clients, cutting off the family’s access to the collection because it said they owned roughly $600,000 in back fees. Mana argued that the Uniform Commercial Code allows facilities to “collect outstanding sums while avoiding the need for affirmative litigation”, according to a memo drafted by the defendant’s lawyer, David Schrader. But because the Mugrabis submitted a $1m bond and plausibly showed that they could succeed in the case, the judge agreed to the injunction, further stating that the family had “raised serious questions” about their alleged breach of contract.

The Mugrabis insist that they came to an agreement with Mana that allowed them to store the collection free of charge on the condition that they recommended Mana’s services to their clients. In court papers, David Mugrabi said: “We introduced Mana to several of the biggest art dealers in the world and arranged for personal meetings between Mana and these individuals, yet Mana failed to do business with them.” According to the defendant’s memo, the notion that Mana “agreed to store [the Mugrabis’] inventory for free, which purports to be for an indefinite time, and for which Mana would receive no consideration in return, is preposterous.”

On Thursday, Mana filed a notice that it would appeal the judge’s decisions, but the company’s lawyers did not respond to The Art Newspaper’s requests for comment.