Jeff Koons has lost his legal battle against a 74-year-old Italian insurer after a Milan court ruled that a sculpture of two snakes was the original, against the American artist's claims.
The Two Cheerful Snakes with Green Bow Ties is a 34-inch-tall porcelain work that forms 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 property auction in Milan for 500,000 lire in 1991 (about €500 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 carry the same title. The ruling means that the value of the realtor-owned version of the work is likely to skyrocket, while the value of a second version displayed at the Ohio University art gallery could depreciate significantly, experts say.
Last October, the Milan court confirmed, the previous decision issued two years earlier, which found that the collector's version is "an authentic authorized work of art by Mr. Jeffrey Koons". The Ohio version may be a "clone" made later when the original was believed 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 it is now "priceless", adds Garrone.Jeff Koons started 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 claims with the Southern District Court of New York that the work was fake. However, Koons changed his story when he was questioned during the trial, saying that although the work was exhibited in Cologne, it was a faulty prototype and should have been destroyed. The court concluded that this allegation was unfounded.
The case resurfaced in Italy in 2014, when a Milan 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 compensation of €8 million, the average value of works by the Serpents group. The Milan court concluded that the work was an authorized and authentic Jeff Koons. According to the decision, any future claims for damages issued by the collector would be dealt with in a “separate judgment”. Koons has appealed the court's latest decision and the case will definitely be heard in Italy's Court of Cassation, says Garrone. Koons' sculpture Rabbit sold for a record $91 million in 2019, making him the world's most expensive living artist at auction.