A recent article in the New York Review of Books has focused attention on the authentication processes applied to works by Andy Warhol. In the piece, referring to a case between the Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Richard Dorment accuses the Foundation’s Art Authentication Board of “sublime idiocy” in its decisions deeming some Warhol works authentic and others copies created by students of Warhol.
This was one of many legal cases that led to the closure of the Andy Warhol Foundation authentication board in 2012. Up to this point, the Foundation had been the sole arbiter of the legitimacy of Warhol works, but after a series of controversial decisions and expensive lawsuits, the board announced they would be shutting up shop for good.
One of the highest-profile disputes involved the British filmmaker, Joe Simon-Whelan, whose Warhol self-portrait was denied twice, leading him to sue in late 2007. Based on anti-trust claims, Simon-Whelan charged that the authentication board had “conducted a 20 year conspiracy to inflate the prices by denying the authenticity of a certain number as a way to create artificial scarcity”, a charge which the Foundation denied.
After three years, Mr Simon-Whelan dropped the case due to a lack of financial resources. In that time, the Foundation Board had spent over $7 million in legal fees. The Foundation subsequently decided in September 2012 to sell off all the remaining works in its collection, estimated to be around 20,000 pictures, prints, drawings and photographs, through Christie’s auction house.
The closure of the Foundation has caused some confusion in the market. However, collectors are not necessarily deterred by the lack of official approval. For instance, none of the top five Warhol works sold at auction have been stamped by the board, including the world record for Warhol’s work Green Car Crash (Burning Green Car 1) which made $71,700,000 (£32,320,000) in 2007. All of these top record-breakers are, however, detailed in the artist’s catalogue raisonné which is compiled by the foundation.
The best way to get an uncertain Warhol appraised is to submit it to the Foundation, which is still in the process of listing Warhol pieces for future volumes of Warhol’s catalogue raisonné. If a piece is included in the raisonné, it’s assumed to be a Warhol.
In the meantime, Warhols will be assessed like the art of any other artist – by experts familiar with their work.