Bodyguard Stole Warhol Works

New York City -- Andy Warhol’s foundation sued the iconic pop artist’s former bodyguard, accusing him of stealing a 1964 painting of actress Elizabeth Taylor, entitled “Liz,” and hiding it for more than 30 years.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network have seen Warhol's images of Luz Taylor fetch huge sums at auction.

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts -- established by the artist’s will to hold his works -- alleged in a lawsuit that former bodyguard Agusto Bugarin is a “patient thief” who stole the work in 1984 and is now trying to sell it “after everyone he thought could challenge his ownership of the work had died.”

Warhol, who died in 1987 at age 58, employed Bugarin in the 1980s, according to the complaint in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.

Bugarin, of Jersey City, New Jersey, claims Warhol gave him the 42.5-inch-by-44.25-inch painting in return for helping him renovate an apartment and assisting on several works of art, according to the complaint.

The aim of the suit is “to prevent a thief and his gallery partner from profiting in stolen goods that would otherwise be used in furtherance of the foundation’s charitable mission,” plaintiff’s attorney Luke Nikas of Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP said in an e-mail.

‘Trusted Bodyguard’

Bugarin is described in Victor Bockris’ biography of Warhol as a “trusted bodyguard” who was a brother of the artist’s maids, according to excerpts posted on Google Books.

According to the complaint, Bugarin is working with the Taglialatella Galleries in Manhattan to sell the work.

“Bugarin is a liar and a thief,” the foundation said in the complaint. “There is no indication that Warhol did or would have given his bodyguard a painting valued at the time in the hundreds of thousands of dollars -- several multiples of Bugarin’s annual salary.”

Taylor was one of Warhol’s earliest and most frequent subjects, with silkscreens of the actress being shown at one of his first shows at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati in 1963. A rarely seen silkscreen of Taylor estimated at about $30 million will lead an auction of Warhol’s portraits at Sotheby’s in New York next month.

Contemporary Art

Taglialatella specializes in contemporary art, according to the complaint. It displayed 12 Warhol canvases at an exhibition that ended this month, according to its website.

Bugarin was hired by the estate after Warhol’s death and then fired after returning four of the artist’s works he’d stolen, the foundation said. He didn’t return “Liz” and concealed the theft for years, it claimed.

A photograph of the painting is contained in the estate’s records along with a note that it was stolen, according to the complaint. Bugarin allegedly brought the work to New York and the gallery accepted it on consignment and began marketing it to potential buyers, the foundation said.

According to the complaint, Bugarin and the gallery have refused to return the painting, and Welt said yesterday that Taglialatella and Bugarin intend to sell it as soon as possible.

Justice Cynthia Kern in Manhattan today signed an order blocking the painting from being moved or sold pending a hearing on Nov. 5, according to court records.

The case is Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts v. Bugarin, 160437/2014, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).