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 judgment and irrational behavior,” something that was rarely discussed publicly because his family and friends wanted to shield him from the “often cruel and judgmental glare of public scrutiny.”
Mr. Moi, the countersuit said, possessed confidential documents that supposedly reflect Mr. Chihuly’s personal struggles. “Under the thin guise of this litigation, Mr. Moi is threatening to make such documents public as purported ‘evidence’ in his lawsuit unless Dale, his family, and Chihuly Inc. pay him $21 million for his silence,” according to the countersuit.
“We never asked for silence,” Mr. Moi’s lawyer, Anne Bremner, wrote in an email in response to a question about that allegation. “We asked for justice.”
For years it has been common for artists to employ groups of assistants whose tasks ranged from stretching canvases to maintaining archives to supplying materials. Some artists, such as Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons — who once told an interviewer that he was “an idea person” — have employed assistants who had a direct hand in creating paintings or sculptures, sometimes even being paid an hourly wage and functioning like members of an assembly line to produce works that later sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.
The lawsuit filed by Mr. Moi describes a less formal arrangement, saying he was never paid by Mr. Chihuly, became an employee or signed any type of work for hire agreement. Rather, the suit claims, Mr. Chihuly “repeatedly and consistently” promised him future compensation, saying that his studio kept careful records, and that he would at some point “take care of him” which Mr. Moi took to mean that his share of the profits of works they had created would be ascertained and awarded.
By most measures, Mr. Chihuly — whose work is in more than 200 museums around the world and who is known for large public exhibitions, and for a 1986 solo show at the Louvre in Paris — and Mr. Moi would seem to make an odd team. Mr. Moi’s lawsuit said the two got to know each other in 1999 aboard Mr. Chihuly’s boat, the Meteor, which was captained by Billy O’Neill, a mutual acquaintance.
Mr. O’Neill eventually became Mr. Chihuly’s assistant, the lawsuit said, and Mr. Moi was hired to repair roofs on houses owned by Mr. Chihuly. Before long, Mr. Moi’s lawsuit states, he began receiving phone calls from assistants including Mr. O’Neill asking him to take part in “frequent and impromptu painting sessions.”
The lawsuit described that process: Mr. Moi and Mr. O’Neill would pour paint onto lines of heavy stock French watercolor paper arranged on floors. Mr. Moi would then use foam mops to create the background and body of pieces. Mr. Chihuly would follow, adding dots, drip and lines and, finally, his signature.
Later, the suit said, Mr. Moi used a blowtorch to “‘burn’ thick lawyers of paint and metallic dust” onto works being created by Mr. Chihuly. By 2012, the lawsuit said, Mr. Moi began working on plexiglass paintings at the Chihuly studio. At that point, Mr. Chihuly played no part in the creative process, the lawsuit said, adding that his role was confined to signing finished pieces.
Mr. O’Neill was fired from the studio in early 2015, the lawsuit said, and, around the same time, Mr. Moi’s contact with Mr. Chihuly trailed off. He was later told that a new group of assistants had been hired, the suit claimed, saying he then realized that “neither Chihuly nor the Chihuly studio was going to compensate him for his years of painting work as promised.”
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