Dale Chihuly, the artist whose show of 20 glass art installations is on display spread across the 250 acres of the New York Botanical Garden, used a group of unpaid assistants for 15 years to create works that were attributed solely to him, a man claimed in a lawsuit filed on Friday in Seattle.
In an unusually detailed answer and counterclaim, Mr. Chihuly’s lawyers also on Friday told of the artist’s deteriorating mental state, and said the lawsuit was “nothing more than an ugly and reprehensible display of opportunism and exploitation” by the man, who the lawyers said was seeking money to keep quiet about the artist’s condition.
The lawsuit was filed by a former contractor, Michael Moi, who said he first met the artist through a shared acquaintance, did construction work for him and eventually participated in “myriad clandestine painting sessions.” It names as defendants Mr. Chihuly, 75; his wife, Leslie Chihuly; and Chihuly Studio Inc., and asks for a finding that Mr. Moi is a co-author of certain works and owns an interest in them.
“The artist has long relied on a collection of discreet and trusted individuals to work in the shadows to create the drawings and paintings on paper glass plexiglass and canvas that bear his name,” the suit claims. “This small group which has never been acknowledged has two requirements: secrecy and unwavering loyalty.”
In the counterclaim, Mr. Chihuly said he had long used assistants to help him execute his artistic vision, but denied that Mr. Moi, whom he described as “a handyman,” had been one of them. Instead, Mr. Chihuly’s lawyers wrote, Mr. Moi had threatened to expose embarrassing information about the artist unless his demands for money were met.
Mr. Chihuly’s lawyers wrote that the artist had been diagnosed with “bipolar disorder, symptoms of which include depression, hyperactivity and/or mania, paranoia, impaired…