ARTnewsletter Archive

Basquiat Committee to Cease Authenticating Works

As the art market resurgence continues and contemporary art prices keep booming, the stakes have never been higher when it comes to rendering an opinion on the authenticity of an artwork.

NEW YORK—As the art market resurgence continues and contemporary art prices keep booming, the stakes have never been higher when it comes to rendering an opinion on the authenticity of an artwork.

The latest entity to exit that realm of the art world, is the authentication committee of the estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. According to a notice posted on the website for the Basquiat estate on Jan. 7, the committee, which was formed in 1993, “will dissolve in September 2012 and no longer consider applications thereafter.”

Paintings by Basquiat, who died in 1988 at the age of 27, have sold for as much as $14.6 million at auction. According to the Basquiat estate website, the committee “has been in existence for eighteen years and has reviewed over 2,000 works of art. It believes that it has fulfilled its goal of providing the public with an opportunity to obtain an opinion as to the authenticity of works purportedly created by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The Committee wishes to take this opportunity to thank all the people who worked on its behalf.”

The current members of the committee, who have served since its founding, include the artist’s father Gerard Basquiat and collector and publisher Larry Warsh. Others, such as the artist’s former dealer Anina Nosei, serve as guest members on occasion.

The announcement comes three months after the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts announced it would dissolve its own authentication arm early this year. After spending more than $7 million in recent years to defend an antitrust lawsuit that stemmed from the decisions of its authentication arm, the board then became locked in a dispute with its insurer over the amount of legal costs it should recoup under two policies it holds. The matter is still pending.

Joel Wachs, president of the Warhol foundation, said the move to dissolve the authentication arm reflects the foundation’s intent of focusing on maximizing grant-making and other forms of charitable support for artists.

The Basquiat estate had also been the target of an authentication-related legal dispute when, in 2008, Swedish collector Gerard De Geer sued the Basquiat Authentication Committee in New York State Supreme Court for its “refusal to authenticate the painting Fuego Flores,” which De Geer had purchased in 1987 from dealer Carl Flach. According to the suit, which sought up to $10 million in damages, Flach had acquired the painting in 1984 from New York dealer Stellan Holm.

According to De Geer’s complaint, in March 2005 he entered into a binding contract under which the committee “agreed to review [De Geer’s] application that the Committee authenticate the painting. . . . However, the Committee and its members ignored and failed to review the information presented. . . . Instead, the Committee arbitrarily refused to express an opinion on the authenticity of the painting,” an action which De Geer said cost him millions of dollars. “Without a certificate of authenticity from the Committee,” the complaint stated, “no major auction house is willing to sell the Painting; thus, making it impossible for Plaintiffs to realize on their investment.”

Flach and Holm were also named as defendants in the suit. “Should the Court or the Committee determine that the painting is not authentic,” the suit said, De Geer would seek damages from Flach and Holm for “making false representations” that the painting was an authentic Basquiat.

The suit was settled in late 2008. The Basquiat Authentication Committee has since declared the work genuine on the basis of additional materials that De Geer submitted for review.

De Geer’s lawyer, Stephen Younger of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, New York, told ARTnewsletter at the time, “I have no comment on the settlement other than that our client is quite pleased with the resolution.”

Ted Poretz, of Ellenoff Grossman & Schole, the attorney who represented Holm, commended the committee for its “openness and willingness to look at the evidence.”