Artists and galleries sue Momart for art destroyed in fire

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The Independent Online

More than 40 artists, galleries and collectors have begun a legal battle against the storage company Momart over works destroyed in a warehouse fire in east London last year.

The list of litigants includes some of the most powerful figures in the industry: the artists Damien Hirst and Gillian Ayres; the sculptor Barry Flanagan; five Royal Academy of Arts trustees, including the celebrated architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw; and a host of galleries.

The musician Dave Stewart, the author Shirley Conran and two daughters of the late abstract artist Patrick Heron, are also among the claimants seeking compensation in the "many millions."

The claims were lodged by Clyde and Co Solicitors with the High Court to recover damages for the lost artwork, which is believed to have been valued at a total of £60m.

The High Court confirmed that another firm, Charles Russell, was dealing with further claimants including the Saatchi and Saatchi Group and Warren and Victoria Miro (of the Victoria Miro Gallery). A number of other individual claims have also been lodged. Some of London's most prominent galleries such as the Waddington in Cork Street and Science Limited, which deals with Hirst's works, have joined forces, Clyde and Co said.

The fire at the Cromwell industrial estate in Leyton, occurred in the early hours of 24 May last year, after burglars broke into an adjoining unit holding DVD players and fax machines.

Clyde and Co's legal team claims the incident was a "disaster waiting to happen". Jonathan Wood, a partner at the firm, said it would argue that the premises were "wholly unsuitable" as a storage location for high-value fine art. "The premises were located among other units where there was a high risk of fire," he said.

"The building itself was not constructed so as to prevent the rapid spread of fire; coupled with this was the inadequate security and fire detection provisions. Momart have consistently denied any responsibility for the loss, which has necessitated proceedings."

The catalogue of lost art includes eight paintings owned by Ayres, and a further 12 Ayres works owned by Conran, nine Flanagan sculptures, 50 major works by Heron and 16 works by Hirst, as well as works he owned by artists including Angus Fairhurst, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas and Michael Joo.

The Waddington Galleries lost about 150 works by artists from Heron to Flanagan, including 20 of major significance.

In a statement, Momart's board of directors said: "This fire was a tragedy for those of Momart's customers who were affected, and for Momart. However, it must be borne in mind that it was caused by arson in an adjacent warehouse.

"Given that High Court proceedings have been commenced, it would not be appropriate for us to comment on the legal issues, but it should suffice to say that all claims against Momart will be defended vigorously."

Tracey Emin, who was among the most high- profile artistic victims of the fire, whose destroyed work included her famous tent, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963 - 1995, confirmed that she was not suing Momart.