Dr. Jack Kevorkian's estate is going ahead with plans to auction 17 of his paintings, including one he did with a pint of his blood, even though a suburban Boston museum is refusing to give them up.
Estate attorney Mayer Morganroth said the dispute with the Armenian Library and Museum of America has only increased interest in the assisted-suicide advocate's artwork.
"This is just ridiculous and preposterous," Morganroth said. "As far as I'm concerned, they're stolen."
The museum in Watertown, Mass., says the paintings were donated by Kevorkian, who was of Armenian descent.
The museum's attorney, Harold W. Potter Jr., said it believes in good faith that it owns the paintings and they'll stay put till the dispute is resolved. The museum and Kevorkian's estate have both filed lawsuits.
Kevorkian died in June in suburban Detroit at age 83, leaving his property to his niece and sole heir, Ava Janus of Troy, Mich. The estate has estimated that the total value of the paintings being held by the museum is $2.5 million to $3.5 million.
The paintings and other Kevorkian possessions are scheduled to be auctioned Friday at the New York Institute of Technology. Images of the paintings will be displayed instead of the actual works, which are still at the museum.
Many of the paintings depict death or dying. One scheduled for auction is titled "Genocide" and features a bloody head being dangled by the hair and held by the hands of two soldiers, one wearing a German military uniform from World War II and the other wearing a Turkish uniform from World War I. Kevorkian painted the head using his blood.
Kevorkian, who sparked the national right-to-die debate with a homemade suicide machine that helped end the lives of dozens of ailing people, was convicted of second-degree murder in 1999 for assisting in the 1998 death of a Michigan man with Lou Gehrig's disease. He was released from prison in 2007.
Kevorkian loaned the paintings and other personal effects to the museum in 1999 because he believed they would be protected while he served his prison term, Morganroth said. Some had been stolen in the past.
Morganroth said the agreement stipulated the museum would return the paintings if requested and he and Kevorkian had to sign off on any changes to the deal, but that never happened. The museum turned over other items belonging to Kevorkian before the estate asked for the paintings, Morganroth said.
The museum sued earlier this month in Middlesex County, asking the court to declare the estate has no right to Kevorkian's art and that it is the rightful owner.
The museum's lawsuit says that the curator who signed the 1999 deal didn't consult his superiors and didn't have the authority to sign the agreement that guaranteed it would return the items.
The lawsuit also claims Kevorkian attended the opening of a second exhibit after he was released from prison and said he was "very pleased that he had donated his entire collection" to the museum.
Auction previews will be held Thursday. Successful bidders must make a 10 percent deposit that will be held in escrow and the paintings will be delivered as soon as the dispute with the museum is resolved.
Other items being auctioned are the assisted-suicide machine called a Thanatron that Kevorkian used to help about 130 people die, a bulletproof vest and his sweaters. The proceeds will go to Janus and the charity Kicking Cancer for Kids, Morganroth said.