The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts announced today that it would "dissolve" the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, Inc. in early 2012. The 16-year-old board, which has been charged with reviewing and authenticating artworks by the Pop artist, has been subject to criticism— and numerous lawsuits — for its questionable and controversial authentication practices.
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According to Warhol Foundation president Joel Wachs, the decision to do away with the board was informed by a "strategic review" of the foundation's core programs and reflects the foundation's "intent to maximize its grant-making and other charitable activities in support of the visual arts." The board will honor all requests for review received prior to October 19, but will no longer accept new submissions.
Wachs told ARTINFO that the foundation's decision was driven by the financial toll the board's operations have taken on the institution as a whole. Consisting of five scholars and curators who meet three times a year to consider submissions, the board costs approximately $500,000 a year to operate. But it was the legal fees from lawsuits over works rejected by the board that ultimately made it untenable, according to Wachs. "I don't want to spend $7 million a year on lawyers," he said, referring to the amount paid by the foundation last year toward defending itself.
Authenticating Andy Warhol has always been something of a tricky business, considering the sheer volume of the artist's production, his appropriation-based methods, and, frequently, his degree of remove from the finished product. In 2007, London-based American Joe Simon filed a complaint challenging the board's rejection of the authenticity of a 1964 Warhol self-portrait he owns; collector Susan Shaer filed a parallel lawsuit in 2009. (Other owners who believe their alleged Warhols were unfairly rejected by the board include London dealer Anthony d'Offay, whose portrait was not acquired by the Tate after being considered as part of a gift of more than 230 other contemporary works to the museum in 2008. Though a representative from the museum said "we ourselves have no reason to doubt the authenticity of the painting," Tate leadership "agreed with Anthony that it would be better not to include any work, the provenance of which might in any way be questioned.") Last year, the foundation made waves when it re-authenticated 100 Brillo boxes that maverick curator Pontus Hulten made in Sweden three years after Warhol's death.
The Shaer and the Simon cases against the foundation were dropped in 2010 due to a lack of financial resources on the part of the plaintiffs. But the foundation is also currently locked in litigation with its D&O insurer, with whom it is seeking coverage of its legal fees. Wachs said the lawsuit will proceed despite the dissolution of the authentication board.
When asked who he thought would take charge of authenticating Warhols after the board's dissolution, Wachs said the same process "used for all artists" — the vast majority of whom go without authentication boards — would be applied to Warhol. The foundation will continue to bear some influence over the Pop artist's body of work with its catalogue raisonne. (Neil Printz and Sally King-Nero, the authors of the catalogue, were also on the authentication board.) Wachs had no comment when asked how the dissolution might influence the market for Warhols, which, according to an ArtTactic report, comprised 17 percent of the contemporary auction market in 2010.
Still, some who disagreed with the practices of the foundation feel vindicated by the news. Seth Redniss, the New York lawyer who represented both Simon and Shaer in court, told ARTINFO, "There's no need for a comment. The shutdown speaks for itself."