Early on, Fremont says, he realized he was once again in a tricky position: both on the authentication board and selling art as the foundation’s exclusive agent. “That’s when it dawned on me that I should step off,” he says. “I didn’t want the perception of conflict to arise, so . . . I removed myself.”

With Johnson’s tragic death, Fremont’s resignation, and Frei’s decision to work instead on the catalogue raisonné, the board assumed its current roster: Whitney, Printz, New York University professor Robert Rosenblum, and former foundation curator Sally King-Nero. These were the judges who began to gather three times a year, reviewing up to 100 submissions each time. These were the ones whose judgments began to roil the art world.

When paintings and prints from Warhol’s well-known series were denied - the Flower series, for example - one could assume the board thought them fakes. But dealers began to believe that if they submitted several from the same series at once - seemingly from the same source - a certain percentage appeared to get turned down as a matter of course.

“I bought 14 Warhol’s from a major wholesaler,” recounts one dealer. “These were 70s silkscreens. I bought and paid for them without written agreement because the works were not only purchased from the Andy Warhol estate but stamped with the Andy Warhol stamp - a circle - and with serial numbers from the estate. I submitted five to the authentication board. Four of the five got an A. But the fifth got a B. Now what do I do about the other nine?”

Some dealers felt the board was cutting down on outside stock on general principles: the less stock out there, the higher the value of what the foundation still owned. Others worried that the board was making decisions based on quality. “Lets say you have two Marilyns, and one is in better condition,” hypothesized one dealer. “So they’ll say, ‘We’ll authenticate this one, but not that one.’ But that’s not their position to take.”

Dealers became accustomed to having the board deny paintings from well-known series that Fremont, or Hughes, or both, had authenticated on behalf of the estate in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The Karp double-panel self-portrait was a perfect example. In cases like this, dealers wondered if the board had new information, or was quietly correcting misjudgments made by Fremont and Hughes. But how to explain when the board reversed its own rulings, going from A to B - within months?

One dealer submitted two silkscreened paintings to the board and had both approved. “Three months later I sold the first painting for about $300,000. After a few months I consigned the second to Christie’s.” To the dealer’s mystification, Christie’s kept the painting awhile, then returned it without explanation. “Then I consigned it to Sotheby’s. After 15 days, they said they didn’t want to deal with it. It turned out that the authentication board had faxed both Christie’s and Sotheby’s to say that the painting was fake . . . less than a year after they gave it an A rating.”

One dealer passed on to Vanity Fair a letter written by the board’s lawyer, Ronald Spencer, to a New York Gallery owner. In the letter, Spencer called attention to a work being exhibited in a show of Warhol paintings and drawings. Spencer acknowledged that the board had given that work an A, but then informed the gallery owner, “A little more that thirteen months thereafter . . . the authentication board wrote the [painting’s] owner ot advise that the authentication board’s opinion had changed by reason of circumstances coming to its attention.” Now the work was “not by Andy Warhol,” Spencer advised, and it’s a should be immediately changed to a B.

One well-known New York dealer recounts getting an unsolicited letter recently from the authentication board about a Warhol painting the dealer had bought in the 1980s and kept in her personal collection. The letter advised that the painting had been overlooked in the first volume of the catalogue raisonné. “However, if I wanted to resubmit, I was welcome to do that,” the dealer recounts. “The next thing I knew, the painting was stamped DENIED on top of Fred Hughes authentication!

“The value isn’t the point,” says the outraged dealer. “The point is that I made a purchase based on the green light that Fred gave me. Fred was the only person at that point who could authenticate it. Sixteen years later, to be told that it’s a fake - It’s just not acceptable. I want them to be deposed, but more than that, I can’t say. I’ll leave it to my lawyer.”

In the gossipy world of art dealers, no one heard of such rude surprises happening to the long-established inner circle of major Warhol dealers - Larry Gagosian (with galleries in New York, Los Angeles and London), Zurich’s Bruno Bischofberger, et al. (In Gagosian’s case, that’s because, as a gallery spokesperson says, Gagosian didn’t feel the need to submit painting with a clear provenance for review. Bischofberger could not be reached for comment.) And so charger of favoritism arose, charger which one dealer outside the circle decided to put to the test. He bought a Flower painting in Italy, he says, and paid $120,000 for it - “today it would be worth $500,000” - on the condition that the board approve it. He bought it back to New York and submitted it; it was returned with a B rating. So the dealer showed the painting to a more powerful dealer in New York, one who has frequent dealings with the estate. The second dealer agreed it was real, and offered to become a half-owner of it for $60,000. The painting was then submitted under the second dealer’s name.

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