To the Editors:
In his article [“What Andy Warhol Did,” April 7, 2011] defending the authenticity of a 1965 picture as a self-portrait by Warhol, Richard Dorment attacks my expert witness report for the case Joe Simon-Whelan et al. v. the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., et al. Now that Mr. Simon-Whelan has dropped his lawsuit, Mr. Dorment has thrust into the court of public opinion a question that would otherwise have been examined in a court of law. In this new venue, as delimited by Mr. Dorment, the rules of engagement are vague and the opportunity for a careful sifting of evidence much reduced. Nonetheless, thanks to Mr. Dorment, my report on Warhol has now garnered almost fifteen minutes of fame, though I would have preferred it without Mr. Dorment’s attempt to sully my character. In what follows, I clarify and correct the record.
Mr. Dorment states that this case of authentication is “wonderfully clear-cut.” That the case is so “clear-cut” raises the question of why it is no longer being pursued. Indeed, the matter is not at all obvious or incontestable. With a measured reading of the available evidence—scattered among thousands of pages of depositions, exhibits, and case files—a complex and fascinating story emerges.
My expert witness report is but one document in this sea of information. My charge was to answer two questions: (1) was the initial opinion (May 21, 2003) of the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board reasonable, given the evidence available at that time, and (2) does this opinion remain reasonable now, given any evidence that has emerged since? After a careful review of numerous depositions and myriad other documents, I reached the conclusion that the opinion of the Board was and remains reasonable. Lest anyone wonder, such a conclusion does not imply that the Board’s opinion is not subject to debate. Nor is my own. Rather, I concluded that the original opinion was and remains compatible with a careful consideration of the evidence.
The self-portrait in question is one of a series of 1965 silk-screen pictures that is based on the same photograph as a series of self-portraits that Warhol painted in his studio, with the help of his assistant, Gerard Malanga, in 1964 (and possibly early 1965). The 1965 series was printed by the Norgus Silk Screen Company, located in New Jersey, and for the sake of clarity I will from here onward refer to this group of pictures as the “Norgus” series. Mr. Dorment states that the photographic acetate used to produce the silk-screen image was the work of Warhol, while the other operations involved in the making of the pictures occurred at Norgus. Mr. Dorment writes, “it hardly matters whether Warhol or his assistants actually pressed the paint through the screen’s mesh.” This statement is more contestable than Mr. Dorment suggests. After all, the evidence of Warhol’s working methods establishes that it certainly mattered to Warhol who “pressed the paint,” a point I delineate in my report. And dozens of photographic documents from the mid-1960s show Warhol in the process of making paintings. The existence of these photographs highlights the importance he put on his working processes. (There is an informative series of photographs by Stephen Shore in which Warhol is making examples of the very self-portrait that is similar to the “Norgus” series.)
Mr. Dorment wants us to think that a work not executed by Andy Warhol may nonetheless be a Warhol. But if it was not painted by Andy Warhol, then it is reasonable to think it is something distinct, a kind of work that does not fit easily into the available categories. Such a work may have value—and it certainly appears to be accruing a certain historical value now!—but that does not make it a painting by Andy Warhol. Mr. Dorment calls to his defense a proposal of the art historian Rainer Crone that Warhol’s “permission.. to send the acetates to a commercial printer represented a radical innovation in the way he [Warhol] worked.” This claim is unsupported as well: to our knowledge, at no time in the 1960s did Warhol pursue such a production method in creating works on canvas.
In considering the reasonability of the opinion of 2003 in light of the known facts at that time, I examined each of the Authentication Board’s seven reasons, which the Board outlined in a letter to Mr. Simon-Whelan of May 18, 2004. I concluded that the constellation of reasons, taken together, provided a justifiable basis for the Board’s opinion. Mr. Dorment writes that I am “expanding on the obvious and openly acknowledged differences” between the paintings made by Warhol and those made at Norgus, adding that I bring forth “no new facts.” However, the point of addressing these differences was not to delineate them, but to weigh them in light of how they cohere with what we know about Warhol—his animating concerns and processes of production. With that end in mind, I will now summarize my findings.
The Board’s first reason rests how the group of self-portraits by Warhol is characterized by varied background colors and distinct compositional details, while the Norgus series contains no such individuated elements. What we know about Warhol’s working processes supports the conclusion that only the individualized paintings are Warhol’s.
The second and third reasons focus on how the Norgus works lack any hand painting in the background and in details (such as the eyes). These facts further support that it was reasonable to assert that the paintings are not by Warhol, since he typically hand-painted the backgrounds of his canvases as well as other details. In this context, it is worth noting that Warhol distinguished between painting and printmaking, both in terms of materials (canvas versus paper) and in terms of location (his studio versus the studios of master printmakers). I did (and do) not know of any evidence that Warhol had paintings, as opposed to prints, made outside of his studio by other hands during the time period in question.
A fourth reason for the Board’s opinion concerns how the black photo silk-screen image varies from one canvas to another in the self-portraits that Warhol painted, whereas this image is invariably the same in the Norgus series. Such a “mechanical treatment,” as I put it in my report, is “uncharacteristic of Warhol’s work.” If Warhol himself cultivated an image of his work as mechanical, his statements to that end were uttered less as descriptions than as elements of his art.
The fifth reason lies in the fact that the self-portrait paintings of the series made by Warhol are on linen, while those made by Norgus are on cotton. It is known that Warhol typically used linen for his paintings. Moreover, the cotton canvases of the Norgus series, as I pointed out, are pre-stretched, but Warhol typically used unstretched linen canvases (there is even a photograph of him stapling one of the linen self-portrait canvases onto the stretcher bars). Indeed, and more significantly, the manner in which the Norgus paintings are stretched affects their composition (and, consequently, their artistic integrity). The size of the photographic image in the Norgus series is the same as that of paintings Warhol made, but the stretcher bars are larger (24 x 20) than in the works Warhol painted (20 x 16). As a result of this difference in size, in the Norgus series, as I noted in my report, “an area of blank, primed canvas around the outer edges has become part of the composition.” (Subsequent to the Board’s 2003 decision, we also have the testimony of one of Warhol’s assistants, cited in my expert witness report: “If Andy had done them why are they all stretched in the manner they are, as Andy felt very strongly about proper cropping I can’t believe he would have permitted this.”*)Curiously, the cover of Rainer Crone’s 1970 catalogue raisonné, about which Mr. Dorment remains interested, illustrates, according to Crone, the Norgus version of the self-portrait. If true, it is cropped so that one cannot see the area of blank canvas that creates the odd border characteristic of the Norgus series. This cropping of the entire border renders it difficult for anyone to discern whether the cover image is from the Norgus series or from the series Warhol made (especially given the quality of the photographic representation of their cover image). (This point regarding the illustration on the cover of the catalogue is in addition to what I stated in my expert witness report.)
The sixth reason for the Authentication Board’s opinion has to do with the relation between Warhol and the silkscreen fabricator. The Board opined that the silk screen used for the Norgus series was not the same as that for the group Warhol painted. In the Norgus series, the density of the halftone on the black photo silk screen is reduced, which is evidence that the silk screen used for those images is distinct from that employed for the self-portraits that Warhol painted. However, Warhol typically specified the tonal effects he desired in the transference of the photographic image onto the silk screen used to make the painting. In the case of the Norgus series, we do not have a sufficient set of corroborating statements that Warhol was so involved.
The seventh reason for the Board’s opinion bears on the making of the silk screen by a commercial printer, Norgus Silk Screen Company. The Board determined that Joe Simon-Whelan’s painting and others that look just like it were done by Norgus. Gus Hunkele, a partner and printer at the firm, had claimed that his instructions were not from Warhol or any agent of the artist. As just noted, Warhol was personally involved in the production of his works and, as I pointed out in my report, Warhol “saved so many of his working materials.” It was here that I referred, in a footnote, to a statement of Hunkele. After conversations with a member of the Authentication Board in 2002 and spring of 2003, Hunkele gave the Board a signed affidavit (June 19, 2003) affirming what he had stated in previous conversations: that he had not had “a communication with Andy Warhol or anyone acting on his instructions….” This affidavit was later amended, on January 16, 2004. (Mr. Dorment claims that I “erroneously” dated this document, which he believes is from January 12, 2004; however, the affidavit bears the date of January 16. Mr. Dorment’s mistake is of no consequence to the case, as best I can judge, and I note it solely to correct the record.) Mr. Dorment accuses me of ignoring additional statements by Hunkele, but these statements could not have informed the Authentication Board’s reasoning, as they were supplied after the Authentication Board issued its opinion, which is what my discussion of Hunkele concerned. (Nor do they contradict Hunkele’s original claim that he had no communication with Andy Warhol—or with a representative of the artist—when Norgus made the series of self-portrait paintings.)
Regarding the second question to which I was asked to respond in my expert witness report, whether the Board’s opinion is reasonable in light of subsequent evidence, I examined several items that might support Mr. Simon-Whelan’s claim. The first of these is the apparent selection of a work in the Norgus series for the cover of Rainer Crone’s 1970 catalogue raisonné of Warhol’s work (which, as noted above, was cropped so that the composition appears on the cover to look like that of the series painted by Warhol). However, the evidence that Warhol himself selected a Norgus series self-portrait for the cover of Crone’s book is drawn only from Crone, who revealed this fact only in 2010, almost forty years since the publication of his book. I stated, and I repeat here, that there is no “firm evidence,” only claims by one individual, that Warhol selected the cover image, especially given that book covers are often the province of the publisher rather than the author or artist. At this point, I offered a plausible explanation drawn from my knowledge of Warhol. I stated that even if we assume Warhol selected the cover image, we cannot thereby conclude that such a selection is evidence that he regarded the painting as one of his own. I added that such a selection, in the “unlikely event” it occurred, could possibly have been a “private joke,” especially since we have evidence from Crone’s own deposition that Warhol had been “upset” (Crone’s word) by Crone’s misjudgment that a painting of Marilyn Monroe was a fake when it was an original.
At this point in his article, Mr. Dorment seems to confuse what I said in my report with what he wants me to have said. I suggested that a private joke might be embedded in the selection of an image for the book cover. Mr. Dorment implies that the “private joke” is not about the cover of the book, but about how “a young and ambitious artist’s inclusion of a pivotal early work in his first catalogue raisonné has become a ‘private joke.’” We do not know whether Warhol—who, in point of fact, was forty-two years old at the time—examined the catalogue raisonné manuscript (or if he did, how closely), but my reference was not to the listing in that volume (of which Mr. Dorment complains I ignored), but to the cover image. Regarding Mr. Dorment’s challenge that I “cite another example in the entire history of art when an artist, at the very beginning of his career, made a ‘private joke’ at his own expense,” it will suffice to note that this challenge is based on a false premise. By 1970, when Crone’s book was published, Andy Warhol already had enjoyed for a solid eight years (and counting) an unusual and striking degree of fame and success as a visual artist. He was far indeed from “the very beginning of his career.”
However, I can cite cases of artists who have affixed their signatures to works that they did not create. And this takes us to the question of whether an artist’s signature is a reliable guide to authenticity, particularly when the other available evidence points strongly in the opposite direction. Mr. Dorment seems surprised that I should raise doubts as to whether a signature, date, or dedication is sufficient for authentication. An artist’s signature is never in and of itself a sufficient indication of authenticity, much less in the case of Andy Warhol, who is unlike other artists and who loved celebrity (a trait often noted). In playing the role of the celebrity, he was happy to sign almost anything. Would Warhol’s signature on a dinner roll, for example, signify that he was the baker? And surely Mr. Dorment is familiar with the case of Giorgio de Chirico, who was notorious for making copies of his own earlier works and then misdating them. Perhaps this case is close, but not quite on the mark. If Mr. Dorment insists on an example of an artist signing his name to a painting that he did not make, then I offer this story, told by the art dealer Richard Feigen: “There was even an instance, related to me first-hand, when out of pity for the impoverished Dominguez, de Chirico actually signed a Dominguez fake ‘de Chirico.’”**
Finally, in my report I note another fact that, on balance with all the other evidence, gives pause. As far as I was able to determine, during Warhol’s life not a single one of the Norgus series pictures was sold at the expected venues: the two major auction houses or art galleries representing Warhol. Instead, the sale of these works occurred in low-profile markets. For example, one of the works in the series, now in the collection of Susan Shaer, was acquired by her father in a barter with an antique dealer. In a footnote to his April 7 article, Mr. Dorment notes that pictures in this series “were sold by both major auction houses and handled by respected art dealers,” yet he fails to mention that these sales occurred after Warhol’s death. As I stated in my report, “[t]hese facts of sales history suggest that the sellers of the paintings (or possibly those employed at the auction houses) did not think they could get the pictures authenticated by the artist himself.”
I thank Richard Dorment for giving me an occasion to clarify and correct the record. I did not take lightly my decision to serve as an expert witness. And the extensive research and analysis I undertook included reading Mr. Dorment’s provocative essay [“What Is an Andy Warhol?”] in the October 22, 2009 issue of The New York Review of Books. My study of the vast and complex record of this case subsequently led me to a conclusion that differs from that of Mr. Dorment. Readers of The New York Review should be aware that the totality of the evidence raises serious questions about whether the Norgus series of self-portraits are paintings by Andy Warhol. If a “wonderfully clear-cut” determination is ever to be made, it will rest on a careful consideration of all the evidence and sound scholarly debate.
Professor of Art History
State University of New York at New Paltz
Richard Dorment replies:
What is striking about Dr. Reva Wolf’s long letter is that she still does not seriously consider the written and eyewitness evidence that Andy Warhol was responsible for the 1965 series of Red Self Portraits, whose authenticity was denied by the Andy Warhol Foundation Art Authentication Board. When Joe Simon-Whelan, an owner of one of that series sued the foundation, Dr. Wolf testified for the board. In her statement as an expert witness, Dr. Wolf quoted a letter written by Sally King-Nero, a board member, which Gus Hunkele signed on June 19, 2003. Though aware that Hunkele wrote, signed, and subsequently notarized an affidavit on January 12, 2004, correcting what he termed “misinformation” in that 2003 letter, Dr. Wolf did not choose to discuss the contents of this 2004 legal document in her opinion submitted to the court. If she had, she would have had to acknowledge Hunkele’s sworn statement that Warhol supplied both the film and instructions with which Hunkele’s firm printed the Red Self Portrait series in 1965. In her letter to The New York Review, Dr. Wolf now writes by way of explanation that in her expert witness statement “Hunkele plays but a minor role.”
But that is precisely the point. Her statement reduced to insignificance a witness who confirmed the sworn testimony of Richard Ekstract and Paul Morrissey that Warhol was responsible for the 1965 series. In his affidavit repudiating the misinformation contained in the January 19, 2003 letter, Hunkele also supplied an unforgettable example of the methods members of the authentication board use to come up with “evidence” to support their decisions.
Dr. Wolf then justifies her omission by saying that Hunkele’s second statement could not have “informed the board’s reasoning” because it was “issued after the board expressed its opinion” on the authenticity of Simon-Whelan’s portrait. But this is a flagrant contradiction of her assertion on the very first page of her witness statement that her conclusions were reached “in light of the new material that has come forward since [my italics] the board’s May 21, 2003, letter denying the authenticity of Simon’s Warhol.”
Furthermore, Dr. Wolf’s expert witness statement does not report the eyewitness testimony of two people at the very heart of the case, Paul Morrissey and Sam Green. Once again, she is ready with an explanation. “It is because I take the word of Warhol’s painting assistants, who worked closely with him on his paintings specifically, to offer a firmer basis for drawing judgments about his works on canvas than the statements of a film maker [Morrissey] or a curator [Green].”
Let us look more closely at that sentence. First, neither Morrissey nor Green made any “judgments” about Warhol’s works on canvas or in any other medium. All they did was report what they saw, heard, and said in July, August, and September 1965, the very moment that the Red Self Portraits were being made and exhibited. Morrissey is a film maker, certainly, but Wolf does not tell us that he was also Warhol’s business manager from 1965 to 1975. It was in this capacity, he wrote, that he asked Warhol “why he didn’t save money by having the silk screen factory do the entire job with his instructions for all his images” and it was he who testified that Warhol spoke to the printer over the telephone to give him specific, detailed instructions regarding the colors he wanted the printer to use.”
Sam Green was not just “a” curator—he was the curator of the first retrospective of Warhol’s work, which opened at the ICA in Philadelphia on October 8, 1965. Green has only one fact to tell us, but it could hardly be more important: against Green’s wishes, Warhol was determined to include one of the Red Self Portraits in the ICA exhibition: “Andy was pushing for it, though, because he said it exemplified his new technique for having works produced without his personal touch: he wanted to get away from that.”
So, according to Green, Warhol not only accepted the series as authentic, but saw the pictures as breaking new ground. Wolf was free to challenge or dispute both the sworn testimony of Morrissey and the statement I have quoted that was submitted to the board by Green and later read to the court. Instead, she entirely left out any mention of either one. Her explanation is that she preferred instead to “take the word of Warhol’s painting assistants, who worked closely with him on his paintings.”
Which assistants does she have in mind? Gerald Malanga, Billy Name, Billy Klüver, and Ronnie Cutrone all worked closely with Warhol in the 1960s, and Cutrone was his primary assistant from 1972 to 1982. Eyewitness testimony from any one of them might provide strong support for her argument.
But that is not what she produces. Without identifying him, Wolf quotes the words of one (and only one) of Warhol’s painting assistants, who said of the Red Self Portraits, “If Andy had done them why are they all stretched in the manner they are, as Andy felt very strongly about proper cropping. I can’t believe he would have permitted this.”1
The unnamed painting assistant is Jay Shriver. Trained by Cutrone, Shriver only started to work for Warhol in 1982—that is, seventeen years after Warhol made the Red Self Portraits. He therefore had no direct knowledge of how Warhol worked in the 1960s, no direct knowledge of how the Red Self Portraits were created. Moreover, nothing in his statement indicates that the two men ever discussed the matter of the Red Self Portraits.
Shriver simply says he “can’t believe” Warhol did them. That is not evidence. It is not even hearsay. It is speculation of the flimsiest kind. Shriver did not testify on behalf of the foundation, and when Joe Simon-Whelan’s lawyers tried to subpoena him, he could not be found.
Wolf does not address the content of the sworn testimony of the three eyewitnesses from the 1960s I have so far produced, but she has no hesitation in quoting the opinion of someone who did not know Warhol until the last years of his life. Twice in her letter she states that she relied on the testimony of “many” witnesses, including “Warhol’s painting assistants.” I challenge her to name them and tell us what they said.
Since she has had nothing to say about the contents of the statements of Morrissey and Green, I am genuinely curious to know what Dr. Wolf will make of an eyewitness whose evidence I publish here for the first time. Herman Meyers was the colleague who accompanied Richard Ekstract to the Norgus Silkscreen Company. His letter to the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board is dated November 2, 2002:
….Richard Ekstract asked me to arrange to have the portraits made from the ruby mechanical [the acetates of Warhol’s 1964 self-portrait]. I contacted silk screener Norman Locker [Gus Hunkele’s partner at Norgus] who, under Andy Warhol’s strict direction, produced seven portraits.2 Explicit direction for the screening was provided on the ruby mechanical in writing by Andy as well as by telephone.3 …I do remember that Andy was very specific in instructing Norman on which paint formulations to use and the order in which to lay them down. This was of utmost importance to Andy. At the time, the recommended canvas supplier had only cotton canvas in stock for the reproductions—so we used that. The stretchers on the other hand, were readily available from the supplier Andy recommended. I can only speculate about why Andy didn’t do the screening at the factory himself. He had already given the ruby mechanical to Richard for use in the magazine [Tape Recording] and he probably found it cheaper and easier to have Richard run them off. I’m told this was a common practice for Andy in those days.
Of the seven technical differences between Andy Warhol’s 1964 and 1965 series of Red Self Portraits listed by Dr. Wolf, all are fully acknowledged by both sides in the dispute. In every instance the explanation for these differences comes down to the same thing: Warhol made two wholly different series. Though both were made from the same acetates, each was printed from a different silk screen and using a different method of production. The 1964 series was hand-screened, the 1965 series mechanically produced by Norgus Silkscreen Company.
Wolf repeatedly rejects the Norgus series, using the same formula: the pictures do not conform to “what we know about Warhol’s working process” in the 1960s. But that formula does not take into consideration the facts set forth in the statements of Morrissey, Green, Ekstract, and Meyers. Instead, the 1965 series adds a whole new dimension to what we know about Warhol’s working process during these years.
As one of the most original artists of the twentieth century, Warhol was always open to innovation, particularly in the years 1964-1965. In the words of the Warhol Foundation’s catalogue raisonné,
Warhol’s approach to composition was becoming increasingly improvisatory and aleatory, open to intervention and change. It is made manifest among the major series of 1964-65: the box sculptures, Jackie and Flower paintings.”4
To that list I would add the series of Red Self Portraits, which represents a crucial turning point in the way Warhol would make his work in the years to come.
Had Warhol judged the series a failure, he could have disowned it. Instead, he signed, dated, and dedicated the “Bruno B” Self Portrait and ensured that it was listed in Rainer Crone’s catalogue raisonné. What more does Wolf require of an artist? Is she really better qualified to judge the authenticity of the portrait than the artist who made it? She gives seven reasons for rejecting the Red Self Portraits on technical grounds, but even these are full of exceptions that she does not take into account. Here are a few.
Warhol “typically” hand-painted the backgrounds and other details of his canvases. (p. 4 par 1) No one has ever denied that Warhol painted backgrounds and other details by hand in most of his work in the 1960s. But not always. According to authentication board member Sally King-Nero’s deposition statement, “there’s different kinds of flower paintings, some don’t have a hand-painted background, just the flowers are painted, some are completely screened….” [Evidence, page 12 of King-Nero’s statement)]. Apparently Dr. Wolf believes that Steven Shore photographed Warhol “making” the 1964 series of self-portraits. In fact this series was made between March and April 1964 and, according to Shore’s own account, he did not meet Warhol until 1965. The photos she describes sound like stills from Bruce Torbet’s film Loner at the Ball, which was made in August 1965. According to the catalogue raisonné (volume 2A page 240) these photos for Torbet’s film were staged. In order to demonstrate the silk-screening technique Warhol was only pretending to execute the work in front of the camera.
The Red Self Portraits are printed on cotton canvas whereas Warhol typically used linen canvas for his supports. In their introduction to the Warhol Foundation’s catalogue raisonné the authors write that “cotton supports were used on occasion” (Vol. 1 p. 20). One of several examples is the Mönchengladbach type of Campbell’s soup cans from 1961-1962 (named after the German town whose Städtisches Museum displays one of them) where seven paintings are on linen, but one is on cotton.5 (Catalogue Raisonné vol. 1 cat. 48)
Warhol “typically” used unstretched canvases. Indeed he did—but he did not always go on to stretch the canvases himself. Art dealer Irving Blum recalled that for a show at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1963,
Andy sent a roll of printed Presley images, an enormous roll, and sent a box of assorted size stretched bars…. I said “You mean, you want me to cut them…?” And he said, “Yes, cut them any way that you think you should… I leave it to you….The only thing I really want is that they should be hung edge to edge, densely—around the gallery….” and that’s exactly what I did…. as per Andy’s instructions. And I sent back what was left on the roll back to Andy and opened the exhibit.” (Example 17) [See Catalogue Raisonné vol 1 p. 355]
Warhol made two types of composition based on the same image of Elvis Presley, using a different screen for each series. The “Ferus” type Elvises (named after the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles) are six inches longer than the “Studio” types. The image in the Ferus type extends to the edges and is cropped slightly at the top and bottom because Blum stretched them that way. The only instructions from Warhol were how to hang them. The “Studio” type were stretched after his death. The Warhol Foundation’s catalogue raisonné accepts both types as authentic.
Warhol did not make the work himself. True—but he did supply the materials and instructions, and at his very next show at Castelli’s gallery in the spring of 1966 Warhol again showed a major work he did not make himself. Bill Miller’s Wallpaper Studio, another commercial outfit with whom Warhol had never worked before, mechanically produced the Cow Wallpaper (cat res 2B p.209). In the same year, Knickerbocker Machine and Foundry screened stills from his movies Sleep and Kiss onto Plexiglas. The Warhol Foundation’s catalogue raisonné accepts these works as authentic. (Volume 2 B nat nos 1870, 1834 and 1835).
Three years later, on April 10, 1969, Warhol wrote a letter authorizing John Coplans, the curator of the Pasadena Museum of Art, to have one hundred Brillo Box sculptures fabricated in California by a commercial company. This was done without Warhol’s direct supervision and without using materials supplied by him. Warhol specified that the works should travel with the exhibition and that all one hundred boxes remain in the museum’s permanent collection. The Foundation’s catalog lists the “Pasadena Type Brillo Soap Pads” as authentic works by Andy Warhol. (Volume 2A p. 84 and 87 and catalog numbers 722.1-722.100)
In addition to the hundred fully authorized Brillo Boxes, the commercial silk-screen company also created an extra sixteen boxes which, as far as we know and as far as the catalogue raisonné tells us, Warhol had not authorized. They were sold on the open market to private collectors and dealers and are listed in the Foundation’s catalogue raisonné as authentic. (2A p. 84 and 86 cat nos 723-738)
With hindsight, Warhol’s first use of commercial printers to make the Red Self Portraits set a precedent for the way he was to work in the 1970s and 1980s. Jean-Paul Russell worked with Rupert Smith in their Tribeca studio to print Warhol’s later work. In a letter to the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board dated October 15, 2002, Russell reviews the creative process Warhol used in the Red Self Portrait series:
This process was very similar to the way that Warhol’s printer Rupert Smith and I printed the last series of self portraits that Andy Warhol ever made…. Most were (pre-) printed on solid color backgrounds, which were painted by his assistants with no artistic brushwork before they came to Rupert’s, others on a pre-printed canvas from New York Central Art Supply. There really is no difference whatsoever in the way that the paintings made by Richard Ekstract from Andy Warhol’s transparencies in 1965 or the last series of self portraits that Rupert Smith and I made. Andy Warhol worked this way, with either Rupert Smith, myself, Richard Ekstract or many other people that I know of such as Alex Heinrici. I don’t see any difference at all. Warhol gave directions but always left an opening for input from others. He was very open to experimentation.” [Emphasis added.]
Russell continues: “I had never seen Andy Warhol even once come down to the studio in Tribeca to watch his work being printed. Sometimes he would ring up and give his instructions over the telephone.” [Example] Given this testimony, the art historical importance of the Red Self Portraits would be difficult to overestimate. They are among the turning points in late-twentieth-century art. Ask Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.6
Dr. Wolf writes that, “as far as [she] was able to determine,” during Warhol’s lifetime “not a single one of the Norgus pictures was sold at the expected venues: the two major auction houses or art galleries representing Warhol.” In fact, the highly respected art dealers who owned or handled paintings from the series of Red Self Portraits during Warhol’s lifetime include Bruno Bischofberger and Margo Leaven. The pictures were accepted as authentic by leading Warhol collectors and dealers, including Heiner Bastian, Fred Hughes, Anthony d’Offay, and Ronald Feldman.
Her argument that no Red Self Portraits were sold at major auction houses during Warhol’s lifetime is irrelevant: volumes one and two of the Foundation’s catalogue raisonné, which cover the years 1961-1969, list a total of 2,110 works. By my rough count 143 of those passed through Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York and London before Warhol’s death in 1987. That’s about sixteen per year, or 6.7 percent. Does Wolf question the authenticity of the remaining 1,967? Wolf declares that “the sellers of the paintings…did not think they could get the pictures authenticated by the artist himself,” forgetting to mention that Bruno Bischofberger did just that.
On the question of what Dr. Wolf calls “straightforward biographical matters” about Warhol, critical recognition came late to the artist. He was thirty-seven when he had his first retrospective. Dealers such as Ivan Karp have testified that even in the mid-1960s it was difficult to sell his work. I accept that Warhol was successful by 1970, but his ambition remained and the years of great wealth and worldwide celebrity still lay ahead. In the circumstances, it seems inconceivable that he would have jeopardized the market in his work by including a painting he knew to be a fake in his first catalogue raisonné and then allow it to be reproduced on the cover. Wolf’s suggestion that Warhol was making a “private joke” by allowing Rainer Crone to publish a picture he did not consider authentic strikes me—and others who knew Warhol—as pure fantasy.
I asked Dr. Wolf to name another artist who signed a fake of his own work at the start of his career. Giorgio de Chirico was accused of selling later works painted in his early style and dated accordingly. The statement cited by Wolf is no more than an anecdote “related” at “first hand” to an art dealer; but even if true, it is not a valid comparison. For it to have any meaning within the context of her outlandish accusation that Warhol passed off a fake picture as authentic, the incident would have had to have taken place early in de Chirico’s career and involved one of his own paintings. The article to which she refers makes no mention of when the incident might have happened.
I will now turn to Wolf’s shameful treatment of the testimony of Rainer Crone. First she questions whether the cover of Rainer Crone’s 1970 catalogue raisonné does indeed reproduce a Norgus type self-portrait, observing that “it is cropped so that one cannot see the area of blank canvas border characteristic of the Norgus series.” Clearly she does not realize that the “Bruno B” portrait was restretched between 1965 and 1969 so that it would match the size of the 1964 series. Dr. Wolf is worried by the quality of the photographic reproduction of this cover image. What should concern her far more is the note at the bottom of the same catalogue entry referring the reader to the color plate on the jacket. Can she explain why the author would add this note if the image on the cover was not the Bischofberger picture? The restretching may have been done by Warhol himself and was certainly done before Warhol showed the painting to Rainer Crone. Wolf had only to refer to Crone’s catalog number 169 where the dimensions of the picture in Bischofberger’s collection are given as 20 x 16, exactly the size of the 1964 series. A note at the bottom of the same catalog entry refers the reader to the color plate on the jacket.
Next, Wolf expresses doubt that Warhol himself selected a Norgus series self portrait for the cover image of his catalog because Crone “revealed this fact only in 2009.” But that is simply because until then no one had any reason to ask him. Once again she repeats her claim that there is no “firm evidence” of Warhol’s choice apart Crone’s statement. But Crone was there. He was an eyewitness. He testified to this under oath. Even Neil Printz, of the Warhol Authentication Board, has said in his deposition statement that he has no reason to doubt Crone’s statement that Warhol selected the image.
Against this, Wolf offers yet more speculation. “We do not know whether Warhol…examined the catalogue raisonné manuscript (or if he did how closely),” she writes. But we do know that Warhol watched what the young German scholar was doing closely, and corrected him when he made a mistake. Wolf herself quotes “evidence from Crone’s own deposition” that Warhol had been ‘upset’ [Crone’s word] by Crone’s misjudgment that a painting of Marilyn Monroe was a fake when it was an original.” In other words, Warhol took a direct personal interest in the accuracy of Crone’s catalog. As to who is the more trustworthy source when it comes to Warhol, readers are free to choose between Wolf’s speculations and the eyewitness testimony of a respected scholar. To help them decide, I suggest they consider the examples of Wolf’s expertise documented in this letter.
Warhol Under the Waldorf July 28, 2011
This is an appropriate place to note that if, as Mr. Dorment asserts, I did “not mention—let alone attempt to refute—the statements I have quoted by Morrissey and Green,” it is because I take the word of Warhol’s painting assistants, who worked closely with him on his paintings specifically, to offer a firmer basis for drawing judgments about his works on canvas than the statements of a filmmaker (Paul Morrissey) or of a curator (Sam Green). Mr. Dorment goes on to claim that my witness, instead of Morrissey or Green, is Gus Hunkele of Norgus Silk Screening; in point of fact, my “witnesses” were many and included Warhol’s painting assistants; Hunkele plays but a minor role in my report. ↩
This is not a direct quotation of Shriver’s words. Wolf is quoting what is in fact an informal note, written after a conversation with Shriver, that is now in the files of the authentication board. ↩
Herman Meyers is remembering events that took place thirty-seven years earlier. There are ten paintings in the series, not seven. This is a letter, not an affidavit. ↩
Note that Warhol’s instructions were written in the margins of the ruby mechanicals, which is exactly the way Warhol instructed other off-site printers later in his career. Examples are available for Dr. Wolf’s inspection in the Warhol Museum. ↩
Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonné, Volume 2. ↩
The catalog heading says “Campbell’s Soup Cans, the Mönchengladbach type, and a Related Soup Can (catalog nos 43-50).” According to the text, there were eight pictures of this type. However, catalog 50, which is on linen, is only “characteristic” of the type. There are seven “pure” Mönchengladbach type soup cans, of which six are on linen and one (catalog 46) on canvas. ↩
And while we are at it, let us ask Warhol Foundation trustees Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger why they have not spoken out publicly in defense of a fellow artist’s right to determine his own oeuvre. ↩