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Warhol Foundation Shuts its Authentication Board

The Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board will be dissolved in early 2012. The decision was announced by the Andy Warhol Foundation after a strategic review of its core aims, according to Joel Wachs, the president of the foundation. The foundation will continue its work in establishing the artist’s complete catalogue raisonné.


The closure of the authentication board means more money can be spent on the foundation’s charitable goals, Wachs told The Art Newspaper. “It is a matter of priority, and our responsibility to Andy’s mission. Our money should be going to artists, not lawyers,” Wachs said by telephone, referring to the astronomical sums that have been spent on legal fees defending the board’s controversial decisions in the past.


The board was heavily criticised last year for spending nearly $7m defending an antitrust lawsuit brought by collector Joe Simon-Whelan, who accused the board of “engaging in a conspiracy to restrain and monopolise trade in the market for Warhol works”. Simon-Whelan also alleged that the board had denied the authenticity of a 1964 Warhol portrait he owned that had been widely accepted by other experts as a genuine work. Simon-Whelan dropped the case in October, saying that he could not afford to continue litigation. “Nobody was more angry than us [about] having to spend that money. It drove me nuts to have to do it,” Wachs said, adding that the not-for-profit board, which was formed by the Warhol Foundation in 1995, costs around $500,000 each year to run.


The Simon-Whelan case is not the only instance in which the board’s decision-making has come under fire. It rejected a signed and dated work from the same series that had been owned by Warhol’s former gallerist, Anthony d’Offay, despite the fact that the work had been included with the artist’s knowledge in Rainer Crone’s 1970 catalogue raisonné. The dealer-collector had planned to include the 1964 self-portrait in the Artist Rooms collection of more than 700 works, which he gave to the Tate and National Galleries of Scotland in an unprecedented part-gift, part-purchase deal in 2008. The self-portrait, along with other works, was ultimately not included in the gift after discussions with the museums. The Tate told The Art Newspaper at the time that “we agreed with Anthony that it would be better not to include any work, the provenance of which might in any way be questioned. However, we ourselves have no reason to doubt the authenticity of this painting.”


The board’s decision in October 2010 to downgrade more than 100 wooden Brillo boxes, which the late Pontus Hulten (the founding director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art) claimed had been made with Warhol’s express authorisation, was also heavily criticised. The board decided to label the works as “copies” despite having previously stamped some works in the series as authentic “Stockholm Type” boxes.


“Clearly, the foundation reached the conclusion that it was too expensive, too time-consuming and too debilitating to continue the project,” Peter Stern said of the law firm McLaughlin & Stern. “The Warhol people really don’t need to have their reputations sullied every day of the week as being either incompetent or evil. I can easily see that they would rather spend money on their programmes than fighting expensive lawsuits,” added Stern, who specialises in art authentication matters.


The foundation will continue to work on Warhol’s catalogue raisonné, though Wachs is keen to stress that this will serve a different function to a dedicated authentication board. “The catalogue raisonné serves a non-market purpose: Andy’s legacy and Warhol scholarship. The market seems to want to use the authentication board, but that can’t be our concern,” Wachs said. He added that the “catalogue raisonné is an effort to look at all the work Andy made, not just the few works people submit for authentication. It is much more comprehensive, and it is public. The only time authentication decisions are public is when someone is not happy, and they make a stink about it.”


The researchers will accept requests to review whether works should be included in the catalogue—but will do so in their own time. “They will get to works chronologically, and the project will probably go on for 20 years,” Wachs said. “Even spending $1m a year, we are only on volume four—it is a huge undertaking.” It is anticipated that there will be “at least three more volumes for the 1970s, four for the 1980s, at least one for drawings and we have not even got to photographs,” added Wachs.


The closure of the board appears to be a deliberate step back from the market. “In effect they are saying that they will not serve the market with a dedicated instrument which only does authentication. I don’t blame them, frankly,” Michael Findlay said, the director of Acquavella Galleries, which deals in Warhol’s work on the secondary market. He added that authentication requests are often driven by the desire to “make something worth a lot of money, not whether a work is an important part of the Warhol canon. It’s whether it is something [collectors] can sell.”


Findlay believes that the board’s closure will not have an effect on the market “because the people doing the catalogue will continue—at whatever pace—to look at a work, and be prepared to tell that owner whether it is being put in the catalogue or not”. There are more than 100,000 works by Warhol, according to Wachs, who said that only around 6,000 of these have gone through the authentication process. “People put too much emphasis on it—around 95% of Andy’s work is still out there,” he said. “The market will have to take care of itself. We need to do what Andy wanted us to do.”


The decision to close the board puts the focus back onto the charitable work done by the foundation, which was formed after Warhol’s death in 1987. It is financed by the sale of works from the Warhol estate and provides support for artists, galleries, exhibitions, publications and arts organisations. “We have spent the past six months or so seeing how we can maximise our charitable acts. We are hearing from everyone that things are rough out there, and funding is being cut. We want to focus on grant-giving,” Wachs said.


In a curious twist of fate, the announcement falls almost exactly 55 years to the day that the Museum of Modern Art in New York wrote to Warhol to reject a drawing, Shoe, that he had offered as a gift to the museum. “Let me explain that because of our severely limited gallery and storage space we must turn down many gifts offered, since we feel it is not fair to accept as a gift a work which may be shown only infrequently,” wrote then director Alfred Barr on 18 October 1956, adding: “The drawing may be picked up from the museum at your convenience.”


Published in The Art Newspaper.

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