Back around 2015, Robert Blumenthal did not expect to be legally entangled with Derek Fordjour — a rising art star whose works are now collected by Drake and Beyoncé.
That’s when, the art dealer told The Post, Fordjour gave him a painting, “Bob and the Recruit,” that depicts Blumenthal with his hand on the shoulder of a basketball player symbolizing the artist himself.
“He would call me ‘Coach,’” Blumenthal, 39, said. “I’d tell him that he is not yet Michael Jordan, but I am still proud of him. It was an inside joke.”
Now, no one is laughing.
In a lawsuit filed in February, Blumenthal claimed that six years ago he and Fordjour entered into an agreement in which the artist would sell him 20 art works for $20,000 all told. Blumenthal alleges his old friend has not delivered seven of the pieces — and he wants the rest of the art or $1.45 million. When reached for comment, Fordjour’s attorney claimed the artist has delivered 15 of the pieces.
Fordjour has a different take on their relationship.
“[‘Bob and the Recruit’] is not the portrayal of an equitable and friendly relationship,” he told The Post. “This is a portrait of exploitation and inequity. This is art imitating life.”
A collector and dealer, Blumenthal regularly scouts art students in search of new talent. In May 2014, he checked out the Tribeca studio of Fordjour, a Harvard grad then enrolled in Hunter College’s MFA program.
Taken by Fordjour’s figurative style, Blumenthal offered to buy one or two pieces. But, he claimed, Fordjour “said he needed to get the number to $20,000. I told him it was more than I was willing to spend but, if he gave me a fair deal, I would jump in.”
That deal — 15 paintings and five works on paper, to be delivered over five months — was confirmed via email in July 2014, according to the lawsuit. Blumenthal alleges in the lawsuit that he also shelled out on an installation — depicting the prayer room of Fordjour’s mother — presented at his now-closed Madison Avenue gallery. The show promoted Fordjour but provided no direct remuneration to either man.
“I invested in Derek’s career,” said Blumenthal. “If he does well, I do well.”
But what Blumenthal saw as a friendly partnership, Fordjour apparently viewed as something more sinister.
“Success often breeds resentment, and there is usually someone who believes they have received less credit than they deserve. In this case, that someone is Robert Blumenthal,” reads a court filing by Fordjour’s lawyer.
Over the next couple years, Blumenthal claims, in court papers, he received 13 of 20 pieces.
“I paid for some paintings and I want [them],” Blumenthal claimed. “But [Fordjour] didn’t want to live up to his end of the agreement. His attitude was, ‘I’m an artist. What can you do about it?’”
In the meantime, Fordjour had become a star: three galleries (including Petzel Gallery in Manhattan) represent him, he’s created an outdoor mural for the Whitney Museum of American Art and his paintings, now collected by Jay-Z, among others, go for as much $170,000 on the secondary market.
In a court document, Fordjour’s lawyer, Maaren Shah, maintained that the arrangement was for Blumenthal to sell the work, not to keep it. “This was a predatory relationship, and New York law protects artists against predatory practices by art dealers,” Shah told The Post.
Blumenthal denied the allegations that the relationship was predatory.
He’s grateful to have “Bob and the Recruit” to enjoy. “I bring it everywhere with me. Right now it’s in Florida,” Blumenthal said. “I considered Derek to be a friend and value it tremendously.”
Sun worshippers jammed newly-opened beaches in Florida Saturday at the…
But he might feel differently after hearing Fordjour’s take.
“There is a well-established tradition of artists expressing displeasure with their patrons within painted portraits,” the artist said. “Famous examples include Michelangelo painting the face of Pope Julius II onto the prophet Zachariah in the Sistine Chapel.”