U.S. businessman sues art collector over Jasper Johns paintings

NEW YORK Fri Jan 25, 2013 6:00pm EST

NEW YORK Jan 25 (Reuters) - Billionaire businessman Henry Kravis and his wife have sued art collector Donald L. Bryant Jr. over three paintings by the renowned artist Jasper Johns that the Kravises say they bought jointly with Bryant with the intention of sharing them, then eventually donating them to New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Kravis, co-founder of New York-based private equity firm KKR & Co., and his wife, Marie Josee, decided to purchase the "Tantric Detail" series with Bryant in 2008, according to the lawsuit, filed on Thursday in New York state Supreme Court in Manhattan.

They all agreed to transfer possession of the works to one another's chosen residence annually, so they each could enjoy displaying them until they were donated to the museum, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says the arrangement worked from 2008 through 2012. But it charges that Bryant refused to transfer the works to the Kravises on Jan. 14 this year.

Instead, the Kravises say, Bryant is holding the works "hostage," until he gets a new agreement without the pledge to give the works to the museum.

"The pledge was a condition of the sale of the art works," the lawsuit says, "which Mr. Bryant now selfishly insists on disregarding."

A message left for Bryant, founder and chairman emeritus of the Bryant Group, a St. Louis employee benefits firm, was not immediately returned. A MoMa spokeswoman declined comment.

The museum announced the acquisition of the Johns works in a 2008 press release that said the trio of paintings were a "promised gift" of Bryant, then a MoMA trustee, and Marie Josee Kravis, president of the board of the museum, and her husband, Henry.

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