LAWSUIT OVER SPONGEBOB ARTAug. 16, 2011
Little could be more bizarre than the idea of a yellow sea sponge who lives in a pineapple in an underwater town called Bikini Bottom, but the latest art-world legal saga comes close. Courthouse News reports that an Orange County gallery owner is suing Todd White, the lead artist behind the cartoon sensation SpongeBob SquarePants, for $5.5 million for allegedly orchestrating a coup of her The Gallery HB at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort.
The plaintiff, Margaret Howell, claims in court papers that White engineered a “malicious and brutal assault and robbery against the very woman who helped him launch his career in studio art." According to the suit, White hired four men to pretend they were interested in purchasing art from Howell's gallery on Aug. 2, 2011, and then to assault her, lock her in her office and steal art worth more than $1 million from the gallery and her art-consulting company. The “thugs,” who Howell described as “hired muscles” and “martial arts experts,” also allegedly stole authenticity certificates, inventory records and the all-important list of clients. †
Howell believes the robbery was designed to allow White to take over her business so he could sell his art directly to his collectors. She claims the scheme was planned in advance with the aid of her former gallery assistant, who supposedly copied her customer information and then “abruptly terminated his employment.” Howell says she was told by the men that “White was 'taking over' the gallery and that she had until Aug. 16 to vacate the premises.”
In addition to the $5.5 million, Howell is seeking an injunction to bar White from using the client list.
Paul Berra, counsel for Todd White and co-defendants Bryce Eddy and Keith Davidson, wrote in an email to Artnet News:
"The lawsuit filed by Ms. Howell is a work of fiction. Ms. Howell was illegally copying Mr. White's artwork, and he caught her red-handed. Upon being confronted by this, Ms. Howell openly admitted her wrongdoing, claimed that she was having financial problems, and immediately agreed to return all of Mr. White's art to him to avoid being sued. In fact, Ms. Howell actually helped Mr. White's representatives package his art and return it to him. Mr. White intends to refer this matter to the appropriate district attorney's office. He also intends to sue Ms. Howell for malicious prosecution for the bogus complaint that she has filed."