In his entertaining memoir Younger Brother, Younger Son (1997), Colin Clark, a son of the art historian Kenneth Clark, recounts a story from his time working as a production assistant on the film The Prince and the Showgirl. To explain why Marilyn Monroe came across far more vividly on screen than her classically trained costar Laurence Olivier, Clark observed that, in front of the cameras, she knew how to speak a language an actor trained for the stage simply could not understand. To Olivierâs fury and frustration, the less the Hollywood goddess appeared to act, the more she lit up the screen. âSome years later,â Clark continues,
I experienced a similar situation when I took my father to the studio of the Pop artist Andy Warhol in New York. My father was an art historian of the old school, used to the canvasses of Rembrandt and Titian. He simply could not conceive that Andyâs silk-screened Brillo boxes were serious art.
Just as Monroe understood that you donât have to act for the camera in the way the stage-trained Olivier defined acting, so Warhol realized that you donât need to make art for an audience brought up on film and television in the way Kenneth Clark defined art. Actress and artist grasped that in the modern world, presentation counts for more than substance. The less you do, the greater may be the impact.
What defeated Kenneth Clark about Warholâs paintings was not only their banal subject matter but also the means he used to make them. Before it is anything else, Warholâs portrait of Marilyn Monroe is a silk screen, a simple reproductive technique in which the artist or craftsman stencils a design onto an acetate plate and then fits the plate into a meshed screen. When ink or paint is forced through the mesh, the design is transferred onto fabric or paper.1
Late in 1962 Warhol started to transfer silk-screen images onto canvas to make paintings. Other American artists, notably Roy Lichtenstein and James Rosenquist, were already painting images they found in comic strips and on billboards. It was not, therefore, Warholâs subject matter that constituted the significant breakthrough in his early work but his decision to make fine art using a technique primarily associated with printmaking and with cheap commercial products such as T-shirts and greeting cards. Warholâs friend Henry Geldzahler, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, recognized that the artistâs two great innovations were âto bring commercial art into fine artâ and âto take printing techniques into painting. Andyâs prints and paintings are exactly the same thing. No one had ever done that before. It was an amazing thing to do.â
After his early experiments painting cartoon characters and Coca-Cola bottles in the loose, drippy style of the Abstract Expressionists, Warhol liked the grainy, slightly out-of-register images produced by a silk screen because, he said, âI wanted somethingâ¦that gave more of an assembly-line effect.â Warholâs new paintings didnât look as though they were painted by hand; they looked like mechanically reproduced photos in cheap tabloid newspapers.
A silk-screened image is flat, and without depth or volume. This perfectly suited Warhol because in painting Marilyn Monroe he wasnât painting a woman of flesh, blood, and psychological complexity but a publicity photograph of a commodity created in a Hollywood studio. As Colin Clarkâs anecdote suggests, you canât look at Warholâs Marilyn in the same way that you look at a painting by Rembrandt or Titian because Warhol isnât interested in any of the things those artists wereâthe representation of material reality, the exploration of character, or the creation of pictorial illusion.
Warhol asked different questions about art. How does it differ from any other commodity? What value do we place on originality, invention, rarity, and the uniqueness of the art object? To do this he revisited long-neglected artistic genres such as history painting in his disaster series, still life in his soup cans and Brillo boxes, and the society portrait in Ethel Scull Thirty-Six Times. Though Warhol isnât always seen as a conceptual artist, his most perceptive critic, Arthur C. Danto, calls him âthe nearest thing to a philosophical genius the history of art has produced.â
Silk screen also enabled Warhol to produce serial imagesâthat is, to choose a motif and then reproduce it repeatedly by silk-screening it in different color combinations. In a conventional printmaking process like etching, the artist makes a limited number of impressions, then destroys the copper plate. But Warholâs series are not finite in this way. The number of finished works he made depended on how many he needed, or thought he could sell.
In Pop: The Genius of Andy Warhol, their fascinating study of Warholâs rise from commercial artist to the most celebrated painter and filmmaker in 1960s America, Tony Scherman and David Dalton are clear that Warholâs move from painting his pictures by hand to photo silk-screening was at the heart of his artistic achievement:
Traditional, manual virtuosity no longer mattered. The fact that Warhol could draw had no bearing on his art now: how an artwork was made ceased to be a criterion of its quality. The result alone mattered: whether or not it was a striking image. Making art became a series of mental decisions, the most crucial of which was choosing the right source image:âas Warhol would contend some years later, âThe selection of the images is the most important and is the fruit of the imagination.â
Throughout the 1960s Warhol was personally involved in choosing, mixing, and applying the paint in most of the silk-screened works. But it was also his frequent practice to delegate the manual task of silk-screening an image onto canvas to his assistants Gerard Malanga and Billy Name. Malanga has said that in the summer of 1963 he was responsible for painting several canvases, including some Electric Chairs, entirely by himself. The following year Warhol told a journalist from Glamour magazine, âIâm becoming a factory,â and of course the building he worked in wasnât called the âStudioâ but the âFactory.â
Those who witnessed Warhol at work on a daily basis in these yearsâMalanga, Billy Name, his manager Paul Morrissey, and his primary assistant from 1972 to 1982, Ronnie Cutroneâall attest that, just as youâd expect from a mind as restless, inventive, and original as Warholâs, the degree of his intervention in the creation of a painting variedânot only from series to series, but also from painting to painting within the same series.2
By the 1970s Warhol no longer had any sustained involvement in the mass production of his paintings. In his book about Warhol, Holy Terror, Bob Colacello quotes Warholâs longtime printer Rupert Smith:
We had so much work that even Augusto [the security man] was doing the painting. We were so busy, Andy and I did everything over the phone. We called it âart by telephone.â3
One person they were calling was Horst Weber von Beeren, who was responsible for painting many of Warholâs later works in a studio in Tribeca (and not at the Factory in Union Square). He has said that Warholâs primary role in the creation of these paintings was simply to sign them when they were sold.4 The artist had come to realize that a painting could be an original Andy Warhol whether or not he ever touched it.
In fact, Warhol had long been familiar with this armâs-length working method. In his days as a successful commercial fashion illustrator, his job was simply to make the drawing and hand it over to the art director, not to become involved in the layout. Scherman and Dalton quote Tina Fredericks, the art director at Glamour who gave Warhol his first New York job: âHe didnât care about that stuffââWill my drawing be displayed big enough? Are you going to shrink it down?â You could say to him, âWe want this,â and heâd just do it, heâd understand.â
Moreover, in his early fashion drawings Warhol developed a technique of blotting his initial design onto high-quality paper in such a way that his pen nib never touched the final drawing. âIn fact,â Scherman and Dalton continue,
the original mattered so little to Warhol that he didnât even draw itâhis longtime assistant Nathan Gluck made the first sketch, rubbed it down to make the tracing, and hinged the tracing to the Strathmore [a brand of high quality drawing paper]. Andy entered only for the coup de grÃ¢ce, the inking and blottingâ¦. What remained constant throughout Warholâs career, whether he drew, painted, or silk-screened photographs, was his fascination with the simulacrum, the copy, the second-generation image. In commercial art, the division of labor is the norm. When Andy began using it in fine art in the sixties, he undermined the myth of the auteur, the sole, and solitary, fount of art.
In this conceptual approach to making art, Warhol inherited the legacy of Marcel Duchamp, an artist he knew, admired, painted, and filmed. Like Duchampâs ready-mades, the ultimate importance of a work by Warhol is not who physically made each object, but the ideas it generates. As the son of immigrants, Warhol in his early works returned again and again to the theme of America itself. What else are the paintings of cheap advertisements for nose jobs and dance lessons concerned with if not the American dream and the price of conformity it exacts? As soon as heâd examined the American obsession with celebrity and glamour in the portraits of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, he was quick to show its race riots and electric chair. Unlike Duchampâs, his was a highly public art, one that criss-crossed between high art, popular culture, commerce, and daily life.
Everything that passed before Warholâs basilisk gazeâcelebrities, socialites, speed freaks, rock bands, film, and fashionâhe imprinted with his deadpan mixture of glamour and humor, then cast them back into the world as narcissistic reflections of his own personality. This is what makes him one of the most complex and elusive figures in the history of art. As Danto explains in his brilliant short study of Warhol, the question Warhol asked is not âWhat is art?â but âWhat is the difference between two things, exactly alike, one of which is art and one of which is not?â
That is very like the question at the heart of a class-action lawsuit brought by the film producer Joe Simon-Whelan and other yet-to-be-named plaintiffs against the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., and the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board, Inc., which is the committee that was set up eight years after the artistâs death in 1987 to pronounce on the authenticity of his work. The case revolves around a series of ten identical silk-screened self-portraits from 1965 (Red Self Portraits), one of which is owned by the plaintiff and all of which the authentication board has declared are not by Warhol. The background to the case, which has become something of a cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre among dealers, curators, and critics on both sides of the Atlantic, is discussed in detail in I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon), Richard Polskyâs breezy memoir of the art market before the economic crash. New developments can be followed in Simon-Whelanâs crusading Web site www .myandywarhol.com.
The Red Self Portraits are among Warholâs best-known works, endlessly reproduced in books about the artist and on exhibition posters. Based on an image taken in an automatic photo booth, the portrait shows Warholâs head and shoulders head-on and slightly from below, a pose much like those in two other important works from this period, the mug shots he used in Thirteen Most Wanted Men and the anonymous young man in his underground film Blow Job. Warhol presents himself as insolent and impassive, in the take-it-or-leave-it stance of the hustler or gangster. Out of register, like a color TV on the blink, the person in the portrait is a new kind of human being, one trapped in some fathomless, unreal televisual space, without physical mass or emotional depth. The dead, unseeing eyes in the self-portrait suggest that he was perfectly serious when he said, âIf you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface: of my paintings and films and me, and there I am. Thereâs nothing behind it.â
As usual in making a silk screen, Warhol started by having the photo transferred to acetate plates. From these acetates he made two series of self-portraits. The first, which he began in the spring of 1964, consists of eleven self-portraits printed on linen, with several different background colors. These the authentication board considers genuine. The following year, a second series was printed from the same acetates on cotton, each with the same red background. The board denies the authenticity of this second series because Warhol was not present when they were printed.
What happened is that Warhol gave the acetates to the publisher Richard Ekstract in exchange for the use of the expensive Norelco video equipment that Ekstract had loaned him to make his first, groundbreaking videos. Prompted by Morrissey (who asked Warhol âwhy he didnât save money by having the silk screen factory do the entire job with his instructions for all of his imagesâ), Warhol told Ekstract to send the acetates to a commercial printer for silk-screening. Morrissey further says that Warhol spoke to the printer over the phone to give him specific, detailed instructions regarding the colors he wanted the printer to use. Both Warhol and Morrissey communicated with the printer, but Morrissey is clear that neither was present during the silk-screening process.5 After the printing, Ekstract returned the acetates to Warhol.
The second series is printed on white cotton duck. Its surfaces are slightly flatter, which makes the images look more machine-made than the ones in the first series because there is no evidence of the artistâs hand in the form of under-drawing or paint texture. The effect pleased Warhol. Sam Green, the curator of Warholâs famous retrospective that opened at the ICA in Philadelphia on October 8, 1965, did not wish to include the Red Self Portrait in the exhibition
because it seemed too âmanufacturedâ to go with the other paintings. 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.6
The ten self-portraits in the second series were exhibited at a party Ekstract gave on September 29, 1965, both to celebrate the premiere of Warholâs first video with Edie Sedgwick and to launch Ekstractâs magazine, Tape Recording. When the party was over, Warhol gave the self-portraits as a form of payment to Ekstract, who in turn took one for himself, gave two to the printer, and presented the rest to the people who had helped with the videotaping.7
So far, it might be possible to argue that whatever Warholâs working practice was later in his career, the second series of self-portraits is not authentic because he was not present when they were printed. But this argument is undermined by one overwhelming fact: one picture in the series, now owned by the London collector Anthony dâOffay, is signed and dated by Warhol, and dedicated in his own handwriting to his longtime business partner, the Zurich-based art dealer Bruno Bischofberger (âTo Bruno B Andy Warhol 1969â). Since the Renaissance, a signature is the way artists such as Mantegna and Titian acknowledge the authenticity of their work.
As if this were not enough to authenticate the work, the Bischofberger self-portrait appeared in Rainer Croneâs 1970 catalogue raisonnÃ© of Warholâs work and is reproduced in color on the jacket. Crone is a highly respected independent scholar who worked closely with Warhol over a two-year period to compile this catalogue raisonnÃ©. Anthony dâOffay, who was Warholâs dealer in London, writes in his statement about the âBruno B Self-Portraitâ:
When Andy Warhol came to London for his show with us in 1986, he signed in my presence our copy of Croneâs book in two places: one signature was across the dust-wrapper [cover] which reproduces our âBruno Bâ Self Portrait eight times. The other was on the bookâs half-title.
It is important to realise that Crone and Warhol together chose the âBruno Bâ Self Portrait for the cover of the book and Andy Warholâs signature across the âBruno Bâ image on the dust jacket is further unequivocal evidence that Warhol not only was authenticating the work, but remained extremely proud of it.
On page 294, the catalog entry (no 169) for the âBruno Bâ Self Portrait makes it clear that this is the picture that appears on the front cover of the book and was owned at the time by Bruno Bischofberger.
It is unthinkable that Warhol would have signed the book and the image if there was the smallest doubt in his mind that the work was not authentic. The combination of the dedication on the back of the painting with the choice of that image for the cover of the catalog raisonnÃ©, together with his further endorsement of the image by signing across it leave no room whatsoever for any doubt as to the authenticity of the work and the artistâs intention.
In the letter denying that dâOffayâs picture is genuine (May 21, 2003), the board writes, âIt is the opinion of the authentication board that said work is NOT the work of Andy Warhol, but that said work was signed, dedicated, and dated by him.â
We are now in the realms of farceâand there is more to come. In 2004, the Warhol Foundation copublished its own updated catalogue raisonnÃ© with Thomas Ammann AG, a firm of Zurich-based art dealers heavily involved in the sale of Warholâs work. In it, the authors, all of whom who are paid either by the Warhol Foundation or by Thomas Ammann AG, silently omit all mention of the Bischofberger self-portrait, even in a footnote or an appendix. A picture that existed in 1970 has been made to vanish: so much for scholarly rigor.
This may be the first time in history that a signed, dated, and dedicated painting personally approved by an artist for the cover of his first major monograph, which included a catalogue raisonnÃ© of his works, has been removed from his oeuvre by those he did not personally appoint. Although Rainer Crone has worked closely with the artist and possesses an important archive of the work they did together, at no time was he consulted by the compilers of the 2004 catalogue raisonnÃ©. In a statement of August 14, 2009, Crone writes, âI am aware of no other instance in which a revised catalog raisonnÃ© omits a hitherto accepted work without explanation.â
When challenged to explain why it continues to deny the authenticity of works in this series, the board replied in a letter of October 2004 that it
knows of no independent verifiable documentation from the period in question, 1964 through to 1965, to indicate or suggest that Warhol sanctioned or authorized anyone to make the work.
But how is it possible to say this? Quite apart from his signature and dedication, there are on record numerous statements from Warhol employees, assistants, and his manager all supporting the evidence regarding Warholâs intentions about the series.
Few artists in the twentieth century were as restlessly experimental as Warhol. This ruling by the board represents a complete misunderstanding of the very nature of what he achieved, and how his approach to making his work changed Western art. Innovation has to start somewhere, and it is precisely because the 1965 Red Self Portraits were made without Warholâs on-the-spot supervision that they are so critically important. They are the kind of transitional works museums and collectors particularly value because they show Warhol groping toward the working method he would adopt in the following decade, when his participation in the creation of his own paintings was often limited to choosing the image and signing the picture.
The single most important thing you can say about a work of art is that it is real, that the artist to whom it is attributed made it. Until you are certain that a work of art is authentic, it is impossible to say much else that is meaningful about it. The separation of the real from the fake is the cornerstone on which our understanding of any artistâs work is based. The very nature of the silk-screening process makes Warhol a particularly easy artist to fake because there is virtually no difference between the appearance of a silk screen that Andy Warhol made with his own hands and one that an assistant might have run off after-hours. From early on, Warhol signed some works and used a stamp of his signature on othersâbut sometimes he didnât sign a work at all.
The task of an authentication board for Warholâs works is therefore not easy. But decisions like the one about the âBruno B Self Portraitâ at best raise doubts about this boardâs competence and at worst about its integrity. For with assets in the region of $500 million worth of art, the Andy Warhol Foundation funds its charitable activities by selling the works it owns. This has left it open to the accusation that it is in the foundationâs financial interest to control the market in Warhols. Simon-Whelanâs lawsuit alleges that the board routinely denies the authenticity of works by Warhol in order to restrict the number of Warhols on the market and thereby to increase the value of its holdings.
Whether this is true or not I canât say because, unlike any other authentication board that Iâm familiar with, this one operates in secret, and is not required to divulge the reasons why a work has not been authenticated. Before it will look at a work submitted to it, the owners must sign a document saying that they will not challenge its verdict in court. Nor is the board obliged to reveal the reason for its decisions, even reserving the right to deauthenticate works that it has already authenticated, and to reinstate works it has already denied.
When a work is deemed not to be by Warhol, it is mutilated by stamping it in ink on the reverse with the word âDENIEDââthereby rendering the picture unsaleable even if the board later changes its mind. Although a lawyer for the board has said that no one forces applicants to submit works for authentication, no auction house or dealer will handle a work whose authenticity the board has questioned. A painting stamped DENIED is worthless.
Normally, authentication boards consist of independent experts who have spent their lifetime studying and familiarizing themselves with the work of a particular artist. Often they are made up of former studio assistants, a spouse, and art historians who have organized major shows and written extensively about that artist.8 But the two longest-serving members of the Warhol board are Neil Printz, a teacher at Caldwell College in New Jersey, and Sally King-Nero, curator of drawings at the Andy Warhol Foundation. Weâve already seen one example of the standard of their scholarship, and neither can be said to have independent status since both are also editors of the catalogue raisonnÃ© that is paid for with funds from the Andy Warhol Foundation and the Thomas Ammann firm (Thomas Ammann died in 1993).9 Vincent Fremont, a former Warhol assistant whom the foundation appointed exclusive sales agent for its paintings, and who personally takes a commission on each sale, is a âconsultantâ to the authentication board. In his lawsuit, Simon-Whelan says that defendants in his case also enforce their control over the market for Warhol works through a select group of powerful galleries and dealers who enjoy a special relationship with Fremont, the foundation, and the authentication board.
Over the years, a number of respected writers and scholars have joined the authentication board. Some have written about or helped organize exhibitions of Warholâs work, but none has had expertise in the authentication of his work or firsthand knowledge of his working methods. In the light of cases like the Red Self Portraits, this has led to the suspicion that the real role of the outside scholars and curators has been to lend credibility to decisions made by Printz and Sally King-Nero in consultation with Fremont.
The Andy Warhol Foundation is packed with lawyers, and with hundreds of millions of dollars it has all the time in the world to fight lawsuits like Simon-Whelanâs, drawing them out until their opponents run out of money. So far, it has been impossible for ordinary people to challenge its decisions. But there may now be hope for those whose works have been denied without explanation and for no creditable reason. In May federal judge Laura Taylor Swain, in deciding against the Warhol Foundationâs motion to dismiss Simon-Whelanâs case, gave the plaintiffs the all-important right of âdiscoveryâ so that the authentication boardâs long-suppressed methods of reaching its decisions can now be brought to light. If the plaintiffs are successful, this case has the potential to break the stranglehold the board has had on the authentication of Warholâs work.
One person who will be following the case with close attention is Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota. In 2008 Anthony dâOffay sold his collection of contemporary art to the English nation (accepting Â£28 million for a collection then conservatively estimated to be worth Â£125 million), an act Prime Minister Gordon Brown called âthe greatest gift this country has ever received from a private individual.â Among the many works dâOffay included in the donation was the self-portrait signed by Warhol and dedicated to âBruno B.â Until its status is resolved, dâOffay has been forced to withdraw the painting.
Leave A Reply