POST BY PADDY JOHNSON
Andy Warhol, Red Self Portrait, 1965
The great un-kept secret of the art world dating back to the mid nineties was that dealers could purchase authenticated work from the Andy Warhol Foundation at low prices and resell it to collectors with a considerable mark-up. The Foundation’s prices have since gone up, the stock diminished, and debates over whether the foundation and authentication board are acting in the interest of accuracy or their stake in the market are now being asked. At least this is the case with collector Susan Shaer’s Red Self Portrait, a work denied by the foundation for reasons many claim are to designed to drive up the price of Warhol work. I don’t know enough about the Warhol market to understand why Red Self Portrait is worth more to the pre-existing market unauthenticated, but I assume it has to do with the fact that collectors prefer the touch of the artist’s hand, and in this case, Warhol gave instructions to printer. The problem, according to many experts, is that this practice is what makes the piece important. Warhol pioneered the practice out sourcing art work to skilled laborers, and this work is on the cover of his Catalogue Raisonne at his request. Felix Salmon does a good job writing summing a few aspects of the authenticity debate brought to light once more by Richard Dorment’s book review What is An Andy Warhol but the real jewel comes in Rainer Crone’s 1200 word response in the comment section. Crone is the author of Warhol’s Catalogue Raisonne and worked closely with the artist from 1968 until his death in 1987.
In January 1970, before the publication of my catalogue raisonné, Warhol and I met in his Factory on Union Square to discuss which image should be used for the cover of the raisonné of his work. To demonstrate his unique reproduction technique using silk screens, Warhol showed me two paintings, identical in color and outline, of the same image, from the series Red Self Portrait. He suggested that we use one of these two paintings for the cover to illustrate his repetitive and multiple reproductions of the same image—in this case, his self-portrait. We chose the Red Self Portrait, which had been recently acquired by Warhol's Swiss dealer and Interview magazine co-owner Bruno Bischofberger and signed and dedicated to “Bruno B.” My 1970 catalog, as well as the revised editions of 1972 (Milan: Mazotta Editore), which included an additional 406 works approved by Warhol, and 1976 (Berlin: Wasmuth), listed this Red Self Portrait as entry #169, but the work was omitted from the Zurich-based gallery Ammann's 2004 catalogue raisonné (without any notification or query to me)—as if this painting never existed or had been destroyed.
This painting was a perfect example of Warhol's technique of making multiple silk screens of the same image (for different colors, etc.) and was produced using the more “hands off” approach he continued with in the 1970s and 1980s. Since he often conveyed the artistic design by telephoning details to the silk screen factory, it is appropriate to compare this approach to the historically first “art by telephone” technique, developed in 1922 by the eminent Bauhaus artist Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, with whom Warhol was familiar through his studies at Carnegie Tech. (See my book The Pictorial Oeuvre of Andy Warhol, a revised catalogue raisonné with about 350 additional entries, that served in 1974 as my Ph.D. thesis and was published by Wasmuth in 1976.)
The artist had chosen at that time the unique and more modern production technique of silk screen over the traditional hand-painted ones; this new technique was a result of Warhol's new concept of art-making and his rejection of the centuries-old theory of the artist as auteur, the unique artistic originator.
how aware the artist was of the theoretical as well as philosophical implications of his mechanical technique of art-making, using silk screening and other simple reproduction processes (rubber stamp, “blotted line”), became evident in the single published interview Warhol gave that, so far as I know, deserves to be classified as accurate:
“”¦No one would know whether my picture was mine or somebody else's.”
“It would turn art history upside down?”
This concept, arrived at by Warhol in 1962—following progressive experimentation in his commercial art work of the early 1950s with rubber stamp and mono print techniques—can be declared as one of Warhol's most significant and important contributions to Western art. Intentional and purposefully conceived, it involves a progressive sequence of mechanical image creations: from hand painting to mono prints, lino cuts, rubber stamps, stencils, single and multiple silk screens in the years 1963-1964.
To read the whole response click here.
I should note that the authenticity is simply one side of the debate. A judge ruled last May that while Susan Shaer could pursue claims of fraud and unjust enrichment against a foundation that authenticates the artist's paintings and prints, her antitrust claims would not proceed to court.
UPDATE: Via: Greg.org in the comment section:
Tip of the iceberg. Crone's awesome letter was written to the NYRB and was published along with an extraordinary series of threats, non-replies, and rebuttals between Warhol Foundation chairman Joel Wachs, Dorment, and many other interested parties, including owners of another Warhol self-portrait from the series. That family rejected the authentication board's invitation to submit the painting when they found out the plan was to de-authenticate it, and they have filed another anti-trust suit.
As this unfolds, it should get seriously ugly, but in the mean time, the letters and accusations are pretty riveting. And the Warhol operation's actions are increasingly looking vastly criminal.
Start with the latest, the link to Crone's letter, and then just surf around through the various replies. it's mind-blowing.
Up next: Powhida!