By Laura Crimaldi, Associated Press
The estate of Dr. Jack Kevorkian said Thursday it intends to proceed with auction plans for 17 paintings that are being held at a Massachusetts museum despite a legal battle over the ownership of the art.
Estate attorney Mayer Morganroth said the dispute with the Armenian Library and Museum of America has only increased interest in the paintings by the assisted-suicide advocate. Kevorkian used a pint of his own blood on one of the paintings.
“This is just ridiculous and preposterous,” Morganroth said. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re stolen.”
Kevorkian, who was of Armenian descent, died in June in suburban Detroit at age 83, leaving his property to his niece and sole heir, Ava Janus of Troy, Mich. The estate has estimated that the total value of the paintings being held by the museum is $2.5 million to $3.5 million. The estate and museum have each filed lawsuits.
The museum’s attorney, Harold W. Potter Jr., said it “believes in good faith that is the owner of those paintings.” He said the paintings, which the museum says Kevorkian donated, will stay put until the courts settle lawsuits over their ownership. The museum is located in Watertown, a town outside Boston.
“It has possession of the paintings. Right now, there’s a lawsuit pending, and nothing is going to change until that lawsuit is resolved,” Potter said.
The paintings and other Kevorkian possessions are scheduled to be auctioned Friday at the New York Institute of Technology.
Many of the paintings depict death or dying. One of those scheduled for auction is titled “Genocide” and features a bloody head being dangled by the hair and held by the hands of two soldiers, one wearing a German military uniform from World War II and the other wearing a Turkish uniform from World War I. Kevorkian painted the head using his blood.
Kevorkian, who spurred on the national right-to-die debate with a homemade suicide machine that helped end the lives of dozens of ailing people, was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 for assisting in the 1998 death of a Michigan man with Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was released from prison in 2007.
Kevorkian loaned the paintings and other personal effects to the museum in 1999 because he believed they would be protected while he served his prison term, Morganroth said. Kevorkian sought out the arrangement because some of the paintings had been previously stolen, he said.
Morganroth said that the agreement stipulated the museum would return the paintings if requested and that he and Kevorkian had to sign off on any changes to the deal. He said that never happened. The museum turned over other items belonging to Kevorkian before the estate asked for the paintings, Morganroth said.
The museum sued earlier this month in Middlesex County, asking the court to declare the estate has no right to Kevorkian’s art and that it is the rightful owner.
The museum’s lawsuit says that the curator who signed the 1999 deal didn’t consult his superiors and didn’t have the authority to sign the agreement that guaranteed it would return the items.
The lawsuit also claims that Kevorkian attended the opening of a second exhibit after he was released from prison and said that he was “very pleased that he had donated his entire collection” to the museum.
Auction previews will be held Thursday. Images of the paintings will be displayed at the auction, Morganroth said. Successful bidders must make a 10 percent deposit that will be held in escrow, he said. The paintings will be delivered as soon as the dispute with the museum is resolved, Morganroth said.
Other items being auctioned are an assisted-suicide machine called a Thanatron that Kevorkian used to help about 130 people die, a bulletproof vest and his sweaters. The proceeds will go to Janus and the charity Kicking Cancer for Kids, Morganroth said.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)