The artnewspaper 2003
by Jason Edward Kaufman

Published in October 2003, New York

New York. Challenge to the Andy Warhol Authentication Board Four people are responsible for establishing whether works by the artist are authentic. Their decision is final. Now they are under attack by collectors who say they have ulterior motives for rejecting works.

Four people are responsible for establishing whether works by the artist are authentic. Their decision is final. Now they are under attack by collectors who say they have ulterior motives for rejecting works new york. The Andy Warhol Authentication Board is under attack from collectors and dealers who allege that the four-member panel is rejecting genuine works by the artist. Complaints range from disagreement as to what constitutes an authentic work of art, to accusations of a conspiracy to control the Warhol market. Many are frustrated by the board 's refusal to disclose how it reaches its authoritative decisions. Lawsuits may be imminent and some observers predict that the dispute between the board and its critics could become the biggest art-world scandal since the Christie's and Sotheby's anti-trust suits.

One collector who has been especially vocal in his campaign to discredit the board is Joe Simon, an American screenwriter based in London, who has had a handful of works rejected by the board, most significantly a collage of dollar bills and a red silkscreen Warhol self-portrait, both on canvas. The self-portrait had previously been accepted as genuine by the Warhol Estate executor Fred Hughes.

Warhol mentions the collage of dollar bills in his diaries, and witnesses recall the artist giving it to Factory assistant Sam Bolton as a 21st-birthday present in 1986. The board believes the work Mr Simon submitted is a copy of the original collage, and last month broke its non-disclosure policy to send Mr Simon a letter explaining its decision. The letter states that the US Treasury Secretary whose signature appears on some of the bills in the collage took office one year after Warhol died and, therefore, the work is a posthumous forgery.

However, the 1965 silkscreen self-portrait submitted to the board by Mr Simon opens an authentication can of worms because it hinges on Warhol's use of assistants. Warhol reportedly authorised magazine publisher Richard Ekstract to produce copies of a 1964 self-portrait in exchange for a loan of video equipment. He gave the acetates to Mr Ekstract who hired printers who had never worked with Warhol to make the screens, mix the colours, and print a series of 20x16-inch canvases.

The board maintains the works, which are unsigned, were created outside the studio. "A work that the artist conceives, authorises, then supervises is the work of the artist. Unless all of those factors are there, then it is not the work of the artist," says the board's lawyer Ron Spencer. Mr Simon feels it is inappropriate to place the authentication bar so high for Warhol and his Factory. He believes the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, established by the Warhol Estate in 1987 in accordance with the artist's will, and the Authentication Board it formed in 1995, are trying to recast Warhol as a traditional painter, something he never was. Several of the artist's former associates agree. Jean-Paul Russell, who worked as an assistant to one of Warhol's printers, Rupert Smith, says it was standard procedure for Warhol to choose a film transparency, make some suggestions about colours and how the work should be printed, then leave the rest to the printers. "They were done outside his studio like thousands of things he authorised," says Warhol's former manager Paul Morrissey. New York dealer Ronald Feldman, who catalogued Warhol's prints and owned Mr Simon's self-portrait in the 1980s, says that, despite his use of assistants and industrial processes, Warhol "really cared about authorship and was never far from the [production] process." The question is: was he just a little too far from the making of the Ekstract series of silkscreens for them to be considered authentic?

Before the Authentication Board was established, Mr Feldman had Warhol executor Fred Hughes authenticate the self-portrait and he says he has no idea why the board is rejecting it now. "I can see why Joe Simon is questioning this decision, because everyone in the production chain felt that these were authentic works by Andy," says Mr Feldman.

This wrangle would be nothing more than a scholarly debate about connoisseurship were it not for the fact that reputations and huge sums of money are at stake. One silkscreen by Warhol , a 1964 "Orange Marilyn", sold for $17.3 million at auction in 1998. Another early canvas has made $8.5 million, and more than a dozen others have surpassed $3 million. Authentic medium-sized self-portraits from the 1960s comparable to Mr Simon's have sold for six-figure sums.

The Andy Warhol Foundation inherited thousands of works from the Warhol Estate and donated 900 paintings, 1,500 drawings, 750 prints, and 2,000 photos to create the permanent collection of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. More than 100 other paintings were sold at a 50% discount to various US museums in 1993 and 1994. The rest of the foundation's stock is still being sold gradually through exclusive agents Vincent Fremont and Tim Hunt, who consign the works to dealers such as the Gagosian Gallery. The money raised by the sales helps fund the foundation's grant-making programme.
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