Hours before a motion was filed to dismiss a lawsuit against the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, Fredrick Iseman, the artist’s nephew and a former foundation board member, filed an amended complaint expanding on previous accusations that Clifford Ross, another nephew and active board member, was using foundation funds for bolster his own artistic career.
The original lawsuit was filed in November last year and described a board comprised of Frankenthaler’s family members and confidants, which includes the artist’s stepdaughter, Lise Motherwell, as well as Michael Hecht, the board’s director, who, Iseman alleges, used the organization’s ample funds to promote their own work. Iseman also accused Ross, Motherwell, and Hecht of “grabstract expressionism” and claimed that the board had plans to close down the foundation and sell off the most important works left in its holdings by 2030.
In the amended suit, Iseman restates many of the allegations from the original suit. Motherwell is alleged to have used her position on the board to bolster her reputation as a curator despite “her lack of curatorial experience or credentials” while Hecht is accused of “directing the Foundation to make donations to organizations he is involved in [to] boost his own status,” and allegedly enriching himself by using his own accounting firms to handle the foundation’s tax needs.
The amended suit’s allegations against Ross are the most inflammatory, and describe a “pay-to-display machine” in which Ross donated works or funds from the Frankenthaler Foundation to prestigious institutions including Yale University, New York University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the American Academy in Rome to secure book publishing contracts, residencies, and exhibitions for himself.
“In some cases […] Ross suggests to the organizations and institutions that the Foundation will make future donations should they agree to show his art,” the filing reads. “In other instances […] he browbeats museums into showing his work as a condition of putting on a Frankenthaler show.”
In a statement sent to ARTnews, the foundation’s current board members said Iseman’s latest complaint was “as baseless as his first filing” and said that Iseman, who formerly served as the board’s director, was not reelected to the board last May because of erratic behavior which it described as “unprofessional” and “disruptive.”
“Mr. Iseman’s scattershot approach and reckless allegations about the Foundation’s leadership and the nation’s premier arts institutions, which are the Foundation’s partners, demonstrates his true character and why he was unsuitable to continue serving as a Director of the Foundation,” the board said in their statement.
A source familiar the parties involved and who asked for anonymity told ARTnews that the new filing was “a smear campaign in the guise of a lawsuit. You can put anything you want into a lawsuit and it’s not defamation. He’s an intelligent person, he knows this.”
Apart from compensatory and punitive damages and a declaration that the current board members violated their fiduciary duty to the foundation, the amended suit calls for a jury trial and for Iseman to be recognized as the “true director and officer of the Board” or, as an alternative, his reinstatement as such.