Frankenthaler Foundation Files Motions to Dismiss in Ongoing Legal Drama with Former President

The Frankenthaler Foundation and its directors have filed motions to dismiss the ongoing legal saga with former board president, Frederick Iseman, according to court documents filed Tuesday.

The two motions were filed on behalf of the Foundation and its directors and come amidst a backdrop of escalating tensions and a barrage of accusations, including alleged “pay to pay” schemes, that have captured public attention.

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The motions challenge allegations brought by Iseman, who is Frankenthaler’s nephew, and directed at each of the boards current directors: Lise Motherwell, the artist’s stepdaughter, Clifford Ross, also Frankenthaler’s nephew, and Michael Hecht. In the original complaint Iseman alleged that Motherwell, Hecht, and Ross were engaging in practices that could effectively ruin Frankenthaler’s legacy, exploiting the foundation for their own benefit and “betraying their commitment to safeguard, protect, and promote Frankenthaler’s legacy.” Among those betrayals was a plan to liquidate the Foundation by 2030, according to the original complaint.

An amended complaint filed earlier this year takes aim at Ross in particular alleging that he suggests to organizations and institutions that the Foundation will make future donations should they agree to show his art” and that “he browbeats museums into showing his work as a condition of putting on a Frankenthaler show.”

Iseman claims he was pushed out of the board after he fought back against the possible dissolution of the Foundation. According to court filings, Iseman also claims his dismissal violates both the Foundation’s bylaws and New York State law and he seeks to remove Ross, Motherwell, and Hecht from the board, and be reinstated as director.

The Foundation, however, asserts that all its decisions were made in accordance with their bylaws and nonprofit corporation law, with no conflicts of interest present. The motions to dismiss additionally assert that Iseman was given notice that his fellow board members would not be reelecting him to the board of directors, a position that lasts one year, with elections happening during the Foundation’s annual meeting.

Earlier this year, in a statement to ARTnewsthe Foundation claimed Iseman was not reelected as director due to erratic and disruptive behavior. The motion to dismiss attempts to bolster that claim with documents.

In one email sent to Iseman the day before the Foundation’s annual meeting, Motherwell, Hecht, and Ross write, “While our vote does not require a reason, I can share with you that your actions, behavior, and communications for some time have been counterproductive, and we believe it is in the best interests of the Foundation that you not continue to serve on the Board. We have voiced our concerns and given you ample opportunity to change your actions and behavior, but they have continued to undermine our ability to function as a Board.”

The directors’ motion focuses on the bombastic allegations made by Iseman against the Foundation. While the motion asserts an adherence to legal and ethical standards in all decisions made by the Foundation, the most salient point seems to be that, despite Iseman’s claims, he was on the board when all of the supposed instances of misconduct were approved and had his own relationships with “recipients of Foundation grants including Harvard and The Museum of Modern Art.”

The director’s motion claims that Iseman’s complaint stems from a bruised ego. “Angered and embarrassed that he lost the confidence of the Directors, Iseman filed this action in a fit of spite, seeking to tar the Directors’ reputations,” the filing reads, noting that the New York Post reported on both the original and the amended complaint within hours of their filing.

The motions also address concerns raised about the potential liquidation of the Foundation and state that there are no plans to wind down operations. Instead, the Foundation said that it remains committed to its ongoing initiatives and exhibitions, including an upcoming solo exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi opening in September.

In a third filing, the Foundation and its directors allege that private investigators from a company called the Mintz Group had contacted multiple people in an effort to harm the Foundation’s reputation. The Mintz Group, the Foundation alleged, used aggressive tactics and engaged in intrusive and harassing behavior, including unannounced visits to individuals only tangentially related to the Foundation, misrepresentation of their identities, and pretending to be reporters. In the motion, the Foundations asks the sitting judge to set “reasonable parameters” on the investigation process, citing instances of overreach and intimidation.

In a statement to ARTnews Iseman said the motions to dismiss “not only lack merit but [are] nothing more than another attempt by the Defendants to evade accountability for their own disgraceful actions.”

Helen Frankenthaler created the Foundation, Iseman said, to “maintain and perpetuate her well-earned place in the history of modern art” while the directors “instead used and continue to use the Foundation to promote their own selfish interests.”

“Because I remain committed to keeping my promise to my mother’s sister by protecting the Foundation according to her wishes, I look forward to proceeding to trial in this case as soon as possible.”


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