Saturday, June 10, 2023

Authenticity: “it depends which expert you are talking to”

A Clancco reader, Jeff Stark, commented on a previous story detailing the legal battle between John Chamberlain and Gerard Malanga regarding an alleged fake Warhol. Stark pointed us to a website by Joe Simon-Whelan, which delineates Simon-Whelan’s battle against the Warhol foundation, their dealer Vincent Fremont and its arm the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board Inc.

On October 11th, The Financial Times’ Georgina Adams wrote a lengthy article on the authenticating process of art works, and the legal issues and lawsuits raised by this seemingly random and chaotic process. Simon-Whelan’s lawsuit is mentioned here, along with three other authentication lawsuits.

  • London-based film producer Joe Simon-Whelan is entrenched in a long-running $120m lawsuit against the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board. A 1964 Warhol self-portrait had been authenticated when he bought it in 1989 for $195,000, but was subsequently twice rejected by the board, that was set up in 1995. He says the portrait is now unsaleable.
  • Andy Warhol’s one-time assistant Gerard Malanga has filed a $5m lawsuit against the US sculptor John Chamberlain. Chamberlain sold a 1967 silkscreen, “315 Johns”, which the Warhol board has declared genuine, but Malanga alleges the work was made by Malanga himself, with two friends.
  • A Swedish art collector has taken the Basquiat Authentication Committee to court in a $10m action. By refusing to give an opinion on a painting, “Fuego Flores” (1983), the committee has allegedly reduced its value from $3m to “less than $5,000”.
  • Jörg Immendorff’s “Café de Flore” (1990-91) was withdrawn from a Munich auction after the German dealer Michael Werner raised issues of authenticity. Werner alleged that it was created by assistants in the artist’s studio.

Adams asks: So how do you find out if your artwork is genuine?

There is simply no sure-fire way of authenticating art, once the artist has died. It’s not that the means are lacking; in fact there is a host of expertise available. But there are “good” and “bad” specialists, reliable and unreliable books, scholarly rivalry, fake certificates and in-conclusive scientific tests. Even the top specialists aren’t infallible: the Getty in Los Angeles still doesn’t know whether its renowned marble kouros is a Greek masterpiece dating from about 530BC or a modern forgery.

Even asking recognised specialists is not always a solution. A famous rivalry opposed Michael Jaffé and Julius Held, both renowned scholars. If one pronounced a Rubens genuine, the other doubted it – and vice versa.


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