Paul Warhola
by Catherine Milner

Published on the Sunday Telegraph magazine

Next month, Paul Warhola, Andy Warhol's brother is selling off his equivalent to the family silver. He is hoping to swell his family's coffers by more than $3.5 million by selling some paintings that he was given by Warhol when he was a teenager – a series charmingly called The Nosepickers. He feels sad that having clung on to the twelve paintings for more than half a century he is now forced to let them go. Yet Warhola, a chicken farmer who drives a pick up truck and lives in a bungalow near Pittsburgh, where Warhol grew up, wants to leave some money for his grandchildren.

He should have been rich, he feels. The Warhol legacy is estimated to be worth more than $700 million and some of those administering it get paid more than $1.2 million every year from selling paintings in its collection - yet all Paul has ever received from his brother's estate is $200,000. Warhola, a jovial 80-year-old Father Christmas lookalike who is as proud of his brother as Jed Bush is of George W. ,does not give the impression of being naturally grumpy. Yet he cannot forget the day that Andy died in February 1987.

"I remember me and my other brother John went round to Andy's house in New York the day after he had died" he recalls, in a voice reminiscent of Andy's plaintive drawl, "It was at 7.30 in the morning yet already the executors were inside rummaging around for what they could lay their hands on. I suspected they had been there even while Andy was still dying in hospital. They didn't want to see us at all." Suddenly any frailty in his voice vanishes: "I don't think much of them - they're a bunch of crooks!" he barks. "They do things just to suit themselves. I don't approve of it - they have hurt a lot of people and Andy would never have approved of that." Warhola is not the only one who feels bitter about the management of what is probably the richest artist's estate in the world. The Warhol Foundation has been accused in the past of mismanaging the paintings and other assets left to it in Warhol's will.

"We need to protect not only the charitable dollars but also the national treasure of Andy Warhol's artistic legacy," said Dennis Vacco, former New York State Attorney, a few years ago. But now the tide of criticism against the Warhol Foundation is rising so fast that as many 60 people, including some of Warhol's friends and former colleagues are threatening to take legal action against it. They are particularly angered by the behaviour of the Warhol Authentication Board that was set up by the Warhol Foundation in 1994 in order to assess which works are genuine Warhols and which are fakes.

The job of the Warhol Authentication Board is, it must be said, a thankless one. Warhol's prints are, along with Macdonald's golden arches and the cursive script of the Coca Cola logo among the most widely recognized symbols of American culture - and the most easily reproduced. Truckloads of fakes and forgeries appear at the headquarters of the Warhol Authentication Board in New York every year. As a result, if you want to sell a Warhol, it is unlikely anybody is going to touch the work without it first having been given the Board's seal of approval. Yet a growing number of people are now complaining that the Board, made up of four people who mostly have an academic rather than a personal knowledge of Warhol, have persistently made the wrong decisions, and have repeatedly turned down perfectly genuine works - works they were personal gifts by the artist, works that he signed, works that appear beyond doubt to be by the Troll-like maestro himself. Of course Warhol himself is to blame for much of the confusion. When he was once asked why he didn't sign some of his work, he answered: "because I didn't make it." How therefore does one judge when a Warhol is a Warhol and when it is by one of the umpteen staff and helpers he employed to help him print his works, and which even included, at times, the man who swept his floors.

This unapologetically lazy way of working has continued to cause mayhem in today's market and encouraged apparently inconsistent and capricious rulings on authenticity by the Authentication Board. Its decisions, some claim, are guided principally by self-interest. Compared to other artists’ estates, The Warhol Foundation is in the highly unusual position of owning the greatest cache of the artist's work which it continually trades in. Last year alone it sold more than $30 million of Warhol's work – making it a Gulliver in a land of Lilliput Warhol dealers. During his lifetime Warhol was believed to have been responsible for creating as many as 100,000 works – possibly the most that any artist has ever created. "Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art of all," he said.

Yet if the Foundation sanctioned all these works as 'authentic' there would be a danger that they would all not be worth very much - those in its own collection included. Although officially there is no connection between the Warhol Foundation and the Warhol Board, Vincent Fremont, sales agent of the art collection who earns a six percent cut of everything sold, was previously in charge of authentications and is still a consultant to the board, demonstrating - argue its critics - that the two outfits are still closely allied. Members of the board and its staff continue to hold prominent salaried positions within the Warhol Foundation. Sally King-Nero is curator for drawings and photographs, Claudia DeFendi curator for prints, Bibi Khan assistant curator, while Robert Rosenblum sits on the art advisory board of the foundation. Rosenblum and David Whitney also have their own multi-million dollar collection of Warhols. Warhol Authentication Board spokesperson Claudia DeFendi recently issued a statement to the press ‘Warhol was a highly productive artist, and that like many other successful artists such as Rubens and David, he employed assistants and carefully supervised them; that Warhol controlled the way his work was made, how it looked, and was well aware of how many of each subject and series were made. There are clear distinctions between what Warhol made and what he did not, and that the goal of the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board is to clarify these distinctions.’ Just how the board are clarifying these decisions is a mystery but many of those who actually did work with the artist have their own views.
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