Art dealer has to pay £111k after losing big 'burnt digestive biscuit'

Mystery of the missing giant ‘burnt digestive biscuit’: Dealer has to pay £111,000 after losing court battle over abstract art piece which disappeared after being loaned to her

  • Esperanza Koren borrowed the artwork ‘Untitled in red 2011’ from Barcelona 
  • Ms Koren said she cannot find the artwork which has been described as ‘missing’

An art dealer has been ordered to pay out £111,000 after losing a court fight over a missing piece of abstract modern art, likened by a judge to a giant ‘burnt digestive biscuit’.

Bosco Sodhi’s two-and-a-half-metre wide mixed media abstract painting ‘Untitled in red 2011’ went ‘missing’ after being loaned to London art dealer Esperanza Koren in 2012.

Ms Koren – whose professional address is a £4.7m apartment in swanky Cadogan Square, Kensington – was later sued for 100,000 euros by the owners of Barcelona-based gallery Principal Art, who own the painting and for whom Ms Koren formerly worked as an agent licenced to exhibit and sell artworks.

They claimed that she had promised to buy the painting for that sum during an exchange of WhatsApp messages in 2013, but then failed to pay and subsequently said she didn’t know where the artwork was.

Now she has been ordered to pay £111,000 in damages and court costs to the gallery’s owners Principal Art SL by Judge Alan Saggerson, who said of the painting: ‘It would seem to have the appearance of a burnt digestive biscuit. This is of value to some in some quarters of the world.’

Bosco Sodhi’s ‘Untitled in red 2011’ was described in court by Judge Alan Saggerson

Central London County Court heard that Ms Koren formerly acted for the gallery as an agent and had been loaned a ‘large set’ of paintings to exhibit, with a view to selling them in 2012.

One of the paintings was ‘Untitled in red 2011’ by Mexican artist Bosco Sodhi, a large round abstract painting with a cracked textured surface built up using natural pigment, sawdust, wood pulp, natural fibers, water and glue.

However her stint representing the gallery was ‘unsuccessful’ and she was asked to return the unsold works, the judge said.

But when she sent the set of paintings back, the Bosco Sodhi piece was not among them.

A representative of the gallery sent her urgent WhatsApp messages asking for its return, saying he had secured a buyer in Miami who would pay 100,000 euros for it.

Esperanza Koren, pictured outside Central London County Court has been ordered to by £118,000 to a gallery which owned a work by renowned Mexican artist Bosco Sodhi

But Ms Koren did not return the painting, instead replying on WhatsApp and offering to buy the artwork for that sum.

The artwork is now ‘missing,’ said Judge Saggerson, whilst lawyers for the gallery told him that still no money has been received a decade later.

Gallery bosses argued that the WhatsApp messages formed a legally binding contract for her to personally buy the painting from them for 100,000 euros.

The court heard that a gallery employee identified only as ‘Carlos’ had messaged Ms Koren, saying: ‘The large red Bosco is missing. Do you know where it is?’

‘This refers to the burnt digestive biscuit picture,’ the judge commented.

The employee’s message continued: ‘I arrive Tuesday to Miami. I have a client who pays me 100,000 euro. I don’t want to miss the opportunity. I need the red painting which I have sold. I have a client who pays 100,000 euros. He thinks it is a fantastic painting.’

Ms Koren had responded: ‘Ok I pay you this price. Call me,’ the judge said.

Questioning Ms Koren in court, he asked: ‘Where is this painting? I want to know where the painting is at the moment. It belongs to them, so where is it?

‘It is clear that you agreed to buy this painting for 100,000 euros.’

Ms Koren, representing herself, told him: ‘At the moment, I don’t know where it is.’

Denying entering into a contract to buy, she added: ‘I said “I want this”, but people can change their mind. They are just WhatsApp messages. I don’t now have the money.

‘You are not forced to buy something if you say you are going to, then you change your mind.

‘At the moment I don’t know where is the painting,’ she said, also submitting that the picture was ‘overpriced’ at 100,000 euros.

The judge said: ‘That is a submission with which I readily agree.’

However he added: ‘You agreed to pay 100,000 euros. It doesn’t matter what the market value is.’

Lawyers for the gallery told the judge: ‘The contract was with the defendant. She hasn’t paid. The amount is due and outstanding and on that basis we are seeking summary judgment.’

Ms Koren went on to ask for an adjournment of the summary judgement application or for it to be dismissed and the case proceed to a full trial.

But the judge refused, saying: ‘If you cant explain now why this is not a contract, you are not going to be any better off in 12 months’ time.’

The judge said Ms Koren had offered to buy the painting personally, not on behalf of a company.

‘Establishing that Ms Koren has a real prospect of defending the action is not a particularly challenging threshold to cross,’ he said.

‘However I’m entirely satisfied in this case that what at the defendant puts forward cannot be described as anything more than fanciful, much of which might be characterised as “Micawberisms”, that is attempting to delay the evil day of judgment, hoping that something will turn up.

‘I do find it extraordinary that the defendant affects to have no recollection whatsoever of the whereabouts of the painting, where it ended up and with whom.

‘The inevitable inference is that she used it as security for other debts and has lost track of its whereabouts.

‘Her submissions have such a hollow ring that I am granting judgment today for the sterling equivalent of 100,000 euros,’ the judge concluded.

He awarded judgment for £86,500 in damages, plus £6,500 interest and £18,000 costs – a total of £111,000.

Mexico City born artist Bosco Sodi, 53, specialises in ‘impressive abstract painting,’ with influences including Jackson Pollock and Paul Rothko.

The surface of each thickly encrusted painting is built up by hand over the course of one or two days. Once he begins a painting, he does not rest until the process is complete, he has said.

Describing his process, he has said: ‘When I am making a painting, I don’t stop. I don’t eat, I don’t sleep after the preparations are made and the first layer is put down. It’s a continuous action, like a performance.’

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