LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The Muhammad Ali Center says a Michigan art gallery that has faced multiple lawsuits for alleged fraud should either take back its gift of more than 180 pieces or allow the center to display or store it without any of the conditions set in the donation agreement.
At issue is the authenticity of Ali autographs on six pieces donated in September 2009. In a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court in Louisville, the center said the signatures are not Ali’s and are not in an online database that authenticates signed artwork.
“The Ali Center is not willing to display the entire donation within its facility,” attorneys Sheryl Snyder and Peter Cummings wrote.
Park West Gallery of Southfield, Mich., donated 151 photographs and 31 mixed-media paintings with the agreement that the Ali Center would retain the art in perpetuity, but had to display the pieces with plaques noting where the art came from.
Park West told officials that the pieces were hand signed by Ali and were listed in the database of Online Authentics, a company specializing in authenticatingmemorabilia, the center says in the lawsuit.
After discovering the signatures weren’t Ali’s, the center tried to return the donation, but Park West refused to take it back or allow the donation agreement to be altered, the center alleges.
Among the items donated were 21 mixed media paintings by British-born artist Simon Bull; 10 mixed media paintings of Ali done by artist Peter Max, who painted the official portrait for Ali’s 70th birthday in January; and 151 photographs of Ali over the course of his life, including pictures of the one-time heavyweight champion working out, Ali with Jackie Onassis and shots from several boxing matches.
The Ali Center showcases the boxing career of the former world heavyweight champion known as “the Louisville Lip,” and highlights his social activism and humanitarian causes out of the ring. Ali grew up in a West End neighborhood of Louisville.
The center replays his most famous bouts and features plenty of memorabilia. Visitors can shadowbox, punch a speed bag and lean into a heavy bag that lets them feel the power of an Ali punch. Other exhibits retrace Ali’s fight against war, segregation and poverty.
In recent years, Park West has been the target of 18 federal lawsuits in six states, each alleging fraud by the Michigan art dealer who has been in business since 1969. The allegations in the lawsuits were all similar: That an employee of Park West billed a piece of art as rare and valuable, but that turned out to be either worth far less than billed or completely worthless to the buyer.
Many of the suits, which involved art sales on cruises, were consolidated and later settled.
Art authenticator Teri Franks, who has been tracking Park West on her Phoenix-based blog, http://www.FineArtRegistry.com , said Park West has an extensive history of complaints about the art they sell, including disagreements over authenticity of the works and autographs. In some cases, such as the one with the Ali Center, problems with the work or autographs turn up after donation documents are signed and the recipient has little recourse, Franks said.
“The lawsuit doesn’t really surprise me. It’s been a long time coming,” Franks said.
Jeanie Kahnke, a spokeswoman for the Ali Center, declined to comment Tuesday afternoon. Messages left for the attorneys for the Ali Center were not immediately returned Tuesday morning. A Park West spokeswoman declined immediate comment.
Ali due in London for July 25 fundraiser
LONDON (AP) — A sports charity says boxing great Muhammad Ali will attend a London gala benefit in his honor two days before the Summer Olympics.
Sports for Peace says the July 25 event will honor Ali’s humanitarian work and status as a “role model on civil rights, humanity and in opposing war.”
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are expected to attend the A-list dinner at the Victoria & Albert Museum, which will raise money for the educational Muhammad Ali Center and for research into Parkinson’s disease. Ali, 70, has battled the degenerative brain condition for almost 30 years.
Jolie is a patron of Sports for Peace, which urges athletes to promote fair play and understanding. Ali won gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics when he was known as Cassius Clay.
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