As far as Simon could see, the painting had an impeccable provenance. Before his purchase of it from the Lang & O’Hara gallery in New York, the 24-by-20-inch work (synthetic polymer and silkscreen ink on canvas) had been handled by Christie’s auction house and by Ronald Feldman, a well-known Manhattan dealer long associated with the artist. It had also been examined by Fred Hughes, Warhol’s executor and the late chairman of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, who wrote and signed an authentication on the back of the painting. “And before I bought it, having known Fred forever, I rang him at home and discussed it with him,” Simon recalls. “the irony is that he owned one of the portraits himself.”

Simon had moved in Warhol circles since coming to New York as a teenager and landing a job as an assistant for Vogue editor Diana Vreeland (as well as Jacqueline Kennedy at Doubleday). Handsome and charming, he slid easily into the factory crowd and knew Warhol personally. Over the years, as he became a movie producer (Richard III), various artists, including David Hockney, painted portraits of him. When the board denied his Warhol self-portrait in early 2002, Simon was trying to produce a sequel to the 1994 drag-queen camp classic The Adventured of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Appalled at what he felt to be a gross injustice, he put his work aside and embarked on a full-time campaign to prove his painting was real. It was a campaign that would immerse him in the creative chaos of Warhol’s early Factory years, even as it deepened his suspicions of the authentication board.

By the late summer of 1965, as Simon already knew, Warhol at 37 had made the leap from commercial designer to Pop-art pioneer, and all but burned out as he did. His first canvases - comic-book characters, Campbell’s-soup cans - had been painstakingly hand-painted, but he soon moved on to silkscreening, which hardly any other artist had tried. Not only was it faster and more profitable, but the assembly-line process of silkscreening seemed perfect for the iconic images he was producing.

By now Warhol’s passion had also shifted from painting to moviemaking. It was easier - and more fun. The Factory had become a Pop version of a Hollywood studio, with Warhol-named “starts” - Baby Jane Holzer, Viva, Ultra Violet - making mind-numbingly long films of people sleeping or kissing. Warhol was also using a new handheld tape recorder to “write” a novel called A: A Novel. On the fringe of this scene, as Simon learned, was a young magazine publisher names Richard Ekstract, who’d just struck a deal with the artist. In exchange for having Warhol sit the cover interview for his trade magazine Tape Recording, Ekstract called an executive he knew over at Norelco and persuaded him to lend Warhol one of the world’s first video recorders and cameras - a $15,000 novelty.

Warhol was thrilled: how much easier to make movies with it than with a 16-mm. camera! When the short tryout period ended, Ekstract says, Warhol asked to keep the camera and recorder, with plenty of videotape, for six more months. In return, he would give silkscreened self-portraits to Ekstract himself and half a dozen others who’d made possible the extended loan and a related party to celebrate Warhol as an underground filmmaker. Such were the origins, Ekstract explained to Joe Simon, of Simon’s own painting.

Because Warhol was so busy, Ekstract added, and because the self-portraits were for barter, not cash, Warhol delegated more of the creative work than usual. Typically, Warhol sent the image he’d chosen to a downtown studio to have a silkscreen made. When the silkscreen came back to the Factory, Warhol and an assistant produced the painting from it. This time, however, Warhol told Ekstract to have a silkscreen printer do that final step with Andy’s guidance. The point, Ekstract said with a laugh, was to save money. “He was too cheap to do it himself!”

Up at the Factory, Ekstract recalled, Warhol approved the paintings. Ekstract, who paid for the silkscreening, kept one for himself. One of the others went to an advertising man. That one, Simon determined after more sleuthing, was the one he’d bought in 1989.

Ekstract, 72, has come a long way since the early days of Tape Recording. He’s published some 20 trade and consumer magazines, including the new Hamptons Cottages & Gardens. He’s an art collector, keeps an apartment on Gracie Square in New York, and has a radically contemporary home on seven and a half acres in Sagaponack, Long Island, that looks like a lunar-landing module. As Simon recounted his frustrations with the board, Ekstract began to seethe. The authentication board had denied his own self-portrait some years before, but he’d shrugged off the slight: Warhol had given him the painting, and he wanted to keep it. Since then, however, more than one of his old cronies had tried to sell their paintings and, like Simon, had had them denied by the board. Ekstract encouraged Simon to keep on with his research. If he prevailed, all seven owners would benefit. If the board turned him down again, Ekstract might be willing to foot a lawsuit.

Simon kept digging. He spoke to Paul Morrissey, Warhol’s Factory film director in the 1960s, who remembered the Ekstract deal and wrote a letter of support. Billy Name, the Factory’s photographer at that time, corroborated Morrissey’s version. Perhaps the most authoritative of the early Factory affidavits came from Warhol’s Factory assistant Gerard Malanga , who helped the artist produce nearly all his early silkscreened paintings.

“The Ekstract situation was an anomaly,” Malanga admits. “We never farmed out another job at that point.” But, he says, “it’s still valid.” After all, he notes, Warhol was always experimenting with different methods. Just because this method was different at the time, he says, “how can the board say Joe’s painting is not real?”

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