Well, it looks as if Bayo Ogunsanya’s suit against Bob Langmuir will have its day in court. That is, the presiding judge in Brooklyn has not thrown it out. But when the busy New York Eastern District Court actually gets around to hearing it is anyone’s guess.
Meanwhile, Phillips de Pury has purged all traces of the scuttled auction of Bob Langmuir’s Arbus/Hubert’s archive from its website. And the auction catalog, a lovely document, is no longer available for sale. Either canny speculators snapped up the remaining copies, or Phillips is holding onto them, knowing they have an instant collector’s item.
A journalist friend, researching a piece for the Village Voice, interviewed Jeff Rosenheim of the Metropolitan Museum, and spokespeople for the Arbus estate and the Fraenkel Gallery. When asked about their possible involvement in Phillips’ last minute cancellation of the April 8 auction, they all said NO WAY. Phillips, true to form, had no comment.
So maybe all my conspiracy theories about the Arbus archive are wrong. Maybe the Arbus estate and the Metropolitan Museum could care less about what happens to the photos that Diane Arbus took of performers at Hubert’s Dime Museum, or the dream journals of Charlie Lucas, the African American performer who managed that venerable Times Square institution.
Maybe Phillips de Pury is just waiting for everyone to forget about the whole strange affair. Maybe they’re banking on the fact that the Bayo lawsuit will exhaust Bob’s resources and that they’ll then be able to strike a more favorable deal with Bob than their original guarantee promised. (They estimated the Arbus/Hubert’s archive would sell for a minimum of $1.75 million. So far, they’re $1.75 million shy of that number.) And then, if they ever settle with Bob, who’s to say they won’t just put the archive away to ripen? Or, worse, disperse it quietly, in dribs and drabs.
This is precisely what Bayo would have done if left to his own devices. He’d have sold the photos and documents on eBay and at various paper shows, piece by piece, thereby destroying the integrity of this unique collection, and the scholarly uses that might have been made of it.
Bob rescued the archive, and made the public aware of its importance. Now he faces a court date, a nasty battle with a well-funded auction gallery, and the disturbing possibility that all his labors might have been in vain.