What if you paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for new, original paintings by a famous artist, only to be told that the artist hasn’t painted in years and the paintings were created by someone you’ve never heard of? According to a series of lawsuits, Adam Max, son of the famous painter, Peter Max, has allegedly been taking advantage of his father’s declining mental health in order to make a profit for himself and a few of his business partners by selling new paintings with his dad’s name on them. The problem is that Max is allegedly no longer painting.
Widely considered to be a countercultural icon in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Max was one of the few painters to become a household name and have his work displayed on the White House lawn, the cover of Time Magazine, and even postage stamps. Now he’s 81 years old and suffering from dementia, but new paintings with his name on them continue to sell for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Whether he’s really painting them is up for debate.
According to one of the many lawsuits between Max’s friends and family members, his son, Adam, together with three business associates, allegedly took over Max’s studio in order to profit off what is already one of the most lucrative art franchises of the 20th century. They have allegedly filled the studio with 18 painters they recruited (many of them off the street) and are paying minimum wage in order to produce paintings in Max’s famous style. Max is then allegedly instructed to hold out his hand and sign his name to each painting so his son can sell them at auction.
Max has also continued making public appearances in order to sell more paintings. His appearance of good physical health means most people never suspect there’s anything wrong with his mind, and it encourages people to think Max created the paintings himself.
Max’s wife, Mary, and their daughter, Libra, say they have been banned from Max’s studio, which led them to suspect Adam was up to something. Mary asked for and received a court-appointed guardian to manage her husband’s business, but shortly after the appointment, Adam allegedly took his father from his home and moved him to different locations around New York City. Since he allegedly refused to reveal his father’s whereabouts to friends and family members, Mary and Libra sued Adam for kidnapping his own father.
Adam, on the other hand, accused Mary of abusing her husband and claims he took his father away in order to protect him from Mary. Other people – including the court-appointed guardian Mary had requested – provided testimonies that supported Adam’s allegations of abuse. But others testified that Max repeatedly mentioned (without being prompted) how much he loved his wife and that removing him from her home could be detrimental to his mental health, so a judge agreed to give Mary custody and to have Max move back in with her.
In addition to the bitter legal disputes flying back and forth between Max’s friends and family members, another lawsuit was filed against Max himself in 2014. The lawsuit was filed after two New York businessmen, who had helped sell a series of Max’s paintings for $500,000, allegedly overheard one of Adam’s associates, Lawrence Moskowitz, say that Max hadn’t painted in years. That case is still ongoing. An attorney working for Moskowitz claimed Moskowitz had witnessed Max painting in recent years, but couldn’t say whether Max had completed one work in that time.
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