The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has just announced that it will dissolve the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board in early 2012. It is no longer accepting submissions for review.
The foundation says that, per Warhol’s directive to “promote the visual arts,” it will focus on core programs of grant-making, exhibitions funding, research, art writing and artist projects that it supports through its partnership with Creative Capital, as well as the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and continuing to compile a catalogue raisonné, three volumes of which have already been published.
Foundation board president Joel Wachs told A.i.A. that the decision has been a long time in coming. “We’ve been reviewing our programs to determine how to maximize resources for grant-making, which is our greatest contribution to the art world, especially as other funding sources dry up.”
According to Wachs, the authentication board itself cost $400,000–500,000 per year to operate. More significantly, it has spent $6-7 million over the past few years on legal expenses, including a major suit brought by filmmaker Joe Simon-Whelan, who accused the board of trying to dominate the market, as well as suits by aggrieved individuals whose works were rejected. “It’s infuriating,” Wachs said. “All those cases have been thrown out. That money shouldn’t be going to lawyers.” In one case, “a guy spent $80 on 12 works at a flea market” and, convinced one was a Warhol, “submitted it three times, then sued in state and federal court.” The foundation spent several hundred thousand fighting the case, according to Wachs.
Work by Warhol is a notoriously difficult to authenticate, given his various collaborations and open-ended definition of “art.” Wachs said that of the more than 100,000 works by the artist, only 6,000 have gone through the authentication process. Twenty percent of those were deemed fakes. He explained that works will now have to be certified through such methods as provenance and scholarship and IFAR, as with most artists’ estates.
The announcement comes on the heels of an August settlement between John Chamberlain and former Warhol assistant Gerard Malanga over an allegedly fake Warhol. Malanga claimed that he had made the work and that Chamberlain was well aware of this but passed it off as authentic nonetheless; he sold it to a collector for $5 million in 2005. The painting, 315 Johns, comprising a grid of small portraits of Chamberlain, was authenticated by the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board in 2000. When contacted by A.i.A. to see if it would exercise its right to retract its 2000 decision, the board declined to comment.
Malanga’s attorney, Peter B. Stern, speculated that the board was undoubtedly tired of the time, energy and money it spent as a result of the board’s determinations. However, “someone has to make a decision about what can or cannot go into the catalogue raisonné,” he said. “Are they just saying they’re not going to call them authentications anymore? There’s an inherent opinion made that something is by an artist” when it’s included in a catalogue raisonné.