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Judge Declares Him Incompetent, Appoints Conservators

August 18, 1989

MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) _ Willem de Kooning, one of America’s greatest living artists, was declared mentally incompetent Friday by a judge who gave control of the painter’s estate, including $150 million in art, to his daughter and attorney.

″I’m very pleased with the decision,″ said de Kooning’s daughter, Lisa, as she left the hearing before state Supreme Court Justice Robert Meade.

Lisa de Kooning, a sculptor and sole heir to de Kooning’s fortune, and family attorney John Eastman last February asked the court to declare the artist incompetent to manage his property because of illness and his age.

De Kooning, 85, one of the first leaders of the abstract expressionist movement, has continued to paint daily in his East Hampton studio despite suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. His daughter lives next door.

Lisa de Kooning, 33, of East Hampton and Eastman filed the request two weeks after the death of Elaine de Kooning, the artist’s wife of 46 years, who managed his household and assets.

Eastman said as co-conservators he and Lisa will audit and inventory the artist’s collection, which may include up to 300 paintings covering his entire career.

″This is going to be a very big undertaking,″ said Eastman, an associate of de Kooning for the past 20 years. ″This is the first time that a living artist as great as this has had such a volume of work gathered.″

″And he’s still painting - some people say it is his greatest work,″ the lawyer added. ″Time will tell.″

They also are selecting a gallery to represent de Kooning’s works. The art, which is valued at between $50 million and $150 million, is stored in warehouses and in de Kooning’s studio.

De Kooning, with only one exception, has not sold any work since 1987 when his longtime dealer, Xavier Fourcade, died. His ″Pink Lady″ sold at a 1988 Sotheby’s auction for $3.6 million.

At the hearing Friday before Meade, de Kooning’s court-appointed guardian, attorney Pierre Lundberg, testified a visit last week with de Kooning convinced him the painter was mentally incompetent.

Lundberg recommended Lisa de Kooning not be appointed sole conservator because of ″potential conflict of interest.″ She promised the court she would be more prudent in managing her father’s affairs than she has with her own.

″I have to practice being less generous,″ she testified in a quiet nervous voice in the packed courtroom in response to questions posed by Lundberg.

Lisa de Kooning, a sculptor, is the daughter of Joan Ward, an artist who lived with de Kooning during a brief separation from his wife in the 1950s.

In 1985, several newspaper stories reported on Lisa de Kooning’s possible involvement in a federal drug investigation of the Hells Angels in which more than 100 members of the motorcycle gang in a dozen cities were arrested.

The arrests followed a three-year undercover investigation announced by FBI director William Webster.

An affidavit said information gained through telephone taps indicated Lisa de Kooning had a number of drug-related conversations with Hells Angels members. She never was charged and has denied any drug-related activity.

″When she was young she led a free-flowing life. ... She has put it behind her,″ said her lawyer, John Silberman.

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