UT sues O’Neal for possession of Fawcett portrait

Diego Cruz

The UT System is suing actor Ryan O’Neal for the wrongful possession of Andy Warhol‘s 1980 portrait of late former UT student Farrah Fawcett, saying the actress bequeathed her collection of art to UT.

The UT System Board of Regents filed the suit Friday at the Central District Court of California in Los Angeles asking O’Neal to transfer the portrait to UT Austin, according to the lawsuit.

In the early 1980s, artist Andy Warhol made two portraits of actress Farrah Fawcett and, according to the suit, gave them to her as gifts.

The portraits remained in Fawcett’s possession until her death on June 25, 2009. In her will, she donated all artwork and objects of art in her possession to UT.

After her death, UT received one of the two portraits, but the other was missing. The University recently learned O’Neal had taken possession of the missing painting.

Fawcett did not include O’Neal in her will, and any other artwork he may have taken from Fawcett’s collection lawfully belongs to UT, according to the suit. The two celebrities were friends and on-and-off lovers.

UT Austin claims more than $1 million in damages as a result of O’Neal’s actions, and requests he either transfer the portrait or pay the equivalent monetary compensation to the University. A recent BBC article estimates the painting may be worth up to $30 million.

“The Warhol portrait is an irreplaceable piece of art for which legal damages could not fully compensate UT Austin if the portrait is lost or damaged during the pendency of this dispute,” according to the lawsuit.

Although UT sources declined to comment on how the University found out about the portrait, ABC News showed footage of a Warhol portrait of Fawcett in O’Neal’s house on his reality show that aired last month.

The BBC article quoted a statement by Arnold Robinson, O’Neal’s spokesman, saying the suit was ridiculous and O’Neal expects to be vindicated in court.

Furthermore, Robinson’s statement said Warhol gave the portrait to O’Neal, and he knew the artist before meeting Fawcett.

UT System Vice Chancellor and General Counsel Barry Burgdorf declined to give comment outside of what was in the lawsuit.

The suit did not mention how the University confirmed O’Neal had the portrait or how the amount in damages was determined.

The Warhol portrait UT does have is currently on display at the Blanton Museum of Art, said museum spokeswoman Kathleen Brady-Stimpert.

Brady-Stimpert said the piece arrived at the museum in 2010 and has been part of a portraiture exhibit since April and is on display through Sept. 4.

She said the portrait is notable not only because it belonged to Fawcett, but because it is the work of pop artist Warhol, who was considered one of the great contemporary artists of his time.

“[The portrait] is very special for us to have because the late Farrah Fawcett was an alum of the University,” Brady-Stimpert said. “So we’re delighted to add a work of this caliber to our collection.”

Printed on 07/14/2011 as: UT sues actor for possession of portrait