What Is a Warhol? The Buried Evidence


After Andy Warhol died in February 1987, his will directed that a foundation should be set up in his name, funded with proceeds from the sale of some 95,000 pictures, prints, sculptures, drawings, and photographs left in his estate. As well as creating and endowing the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts provides financial support to artists and scholars, galleries, publications, and educational projects.

Gianfranco Gorgoni/Contact Press Images
Andy Warhol, New York City, 1970

Warhol’s bequest made no provision for the authentication of his artwork. But in 1994 the foundation initiated work on a multivolume catalogue raisonné of Warhol’s art, in part because the project would “contribute to the stabilization of the market for Warhol works over time, thus having a direct benefit to the Foundation’s longterm goal of converting its Warhol works to cash at favorable prices.”1 In the following year the foundation’s directors set up an authentication committee to pass judgment on artworks attributed to him. Since then several large artist-endowed foundations have adopted the same policy. None have aroused the kind of controversy and ill feeling the Warhol authentication board attracted almost from the start.

Among the procedures that caused widespread disquiet was the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board’s standard practice of stamping the word “DENIED” in indelible red ink on the reverse of a rejected work. This became even more disturbing when collectors, art dealers, academics, and journalists raised questions about the methods of a board that operated in secret and refused to let owners know the evidence or reasoning behind their decisions, some of which were subsequently shown to be blatantly wrong.2

In the cases of which I was aware, when the validity of the board’s conclusions was challenged, its members declined to engage in any form of dialogue, either with owners of the works of art they deemed inauthentic or with those who had known or worked with Warhol.3 This policy left dissatisfied owners with little alternative but to speak to journalists or even to go to court, as happened in 2007 when the collector Joe Simon-Whelan brought a lawsuit against both the foundation and the board for refusing to authenticate a picture from Warhol’s 1965 series of Red Self Portraits.

The judge allowed the case, or most of it, to move forward. At the heart of the complaint was the board’s inability to explain why it had denied the authenticity of a virtually identical picture from the same series belonging to the collector and former art dealer Anthony d’Offay. D’Offay’s Red Self Portrait was signed, dated, inscribed in Warhol’s handwriting, and included in all three editions of the catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work published during his lifetime.4

The status of Simon-Whelan’s and d’Offay’s pictures could have been resolved by the board with the cooperation of both owners by convening…

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