Has Andy Warhol's estate been dominating the market for the artist's work? One owner of a silkscreen by Warhol says that it has, and yesterday filed a $20 million lawsuit in the U.S. District Court.
Filmmaker Joe Simon-Whelan's Warhol original was marked as a fake by the estate who he says has conspired for 20 years to control the market and create an artificial scarcity of original works. The board does this with the authority to stamp "DENIED" on any work they deem fake. According to the AP: "The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Inc. and the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board force owners of each Warhol work to sign contracts giving them a 'perpetual veto right over its authenticity.'"
Simon-Whelan's 24" x 20" silkscreen (a self-portrait of Warhol dubbed "Double Denied" in his court papers) was authenticated twice by the estate already and then denied just as many times. He is claiming that they operate with the ability to revoke authenticity at anytime. Buyer beware! The NY Times reports:
The nonprofit group in Greenwich Village, which owns a number of his works, has given grants supporting young artists by deftly selling Warhol paintings, silk-screens and the like to the tune of millions of dollars over the years.
In the 1990s, the foundation was dogged by accusations of financial chicanery, resulting in investigations by the state that led to bitter probate hearings but ultimately no charges.
Simon-Whelan has used their past scruples as a springboard for his own case, and says the board (specifically their exclusive sales agent, Vincent Fremont) is providing "a facade of corporate credibility obscuring a deeply corrupt enterprise that enables defendants to benefit from Warhol's art and reputation."
The silkscreen at the center of the case was purchased for $195K in 1989 (two years after Warhol's death), and was originally created in 1964 "at Warhol's direction from an acetate personally created and chosen by him." In December 2001 it was going to be sold for $2 million, and that's when the authentication board inexplicably stamped "DENIED" on the back. To add insult to injury, the stamp's red ink bled through to the front. It was rejected again in 2003, by which time Simon-Whelan had even obtained a letter of authentication from Paul Morrissey (filmmaker and friend of Warhol), another from Billy Name (photographer at the Factory) and "a transcript from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh of Warhol himself reminiscing on the creation of the piece."
Image via Killbyte's Flickr.