Jeff Koons lost his legal battle against a 74-year-old Italian insurer after the Milan court ruled that a sculpture of two snakes was the original, against the American artist's claims.
The two merry snakes with green bow ties are a 34-inch-tall porcelain work that is part of a series of sculptures created by Milanese producer Fidia Snc for the 1988 Banality de Koons exhibition in Cologne. The collector bought his version of the work at a lost goods auction in Milan for 500,000 lire in 1991 (about 500 euros in today's money), at a time when the American artist was little known outside specialist circles. Ohio University purchased its version in 1989. Both versions bear the same title. The ruling means that the value of the realtor-owned version of the work is likely to soar, while the value of a second version displayed at the Ohio University art gallery could depreciate significantly, experts say.
Last October, the Milan court upheld, the previous ruling issued two years earlier, which found the collector's version to be "an authorized authentic work of art by Mr Jeffrey Koons". The Ohio version may be a "clone" made later when the original was believed to be lost, Marianna Garrone, the collector's attorney, tells The Art Newspaper. According to art experts consulted by the collector, the work's "unique and incredible history" means that it is now "priceless," adds Garrone.Jeff Koons began a legal battle in 1997 after the collector listed the work at auction at Christie's in New York. The American artist tried to block the sale and filed allegations in the Southern District Court of New York that the work was fake. However, Koons changed his story when questioned during the trial, saying that while the work was exhibited in Cologne, it was a defective prototype and should have been destroyed. The court concluded that this claim was unfounded.
The case resurfaced in Italy in 2014, when a Milan-based gallery owner showed interest in buying the work and asked Koons to verify its authenticity. The artist said it was a prototype and the collector demanded that Jeff Koons pay compensation for the lost sale. Koons, in turn, asked the collector to pay an indemnity of €8 million, the average value of the works of the Serpents group. The Milan court found the work to be an authorized and authentic Jeff Koons. Under the decision, any future claims for damages issued by the collector would be dealt with in “separate judgment”. Koons has appealed the latest court ruling and the case will definitely be heard in Italy's Court of Cassation, says Garrone. Koons' sculpture Coelho sold for a record $91 million in 2019, making him the world's most expensive living artist at auction.