The Andy Warhol Foundation’s motives

By Felix Salmon
December 8, 2009
Richard Dorment's account of the nefarious doings of the Andy Warhol Foundation is a must-read. But there's one bit which rings false to me:

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If you have any interest in art-world machinations, Richard Dorment’s account of the nefarious doings of the Andy Warhol Foundation is a must-read. But there’s one bit which rings false to me:

Decisions like the one about the “Bruno B Self Portrait” at best raise doubts about this board’s 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 foundation’s financial interest to control the market in Warhols. Simon-Whelan’s 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.

As we’ve seen, the enormous number of Warhols in the market seems to have done nothing to reduce their market value — quite the opposite. If the red self-portraits were to be authenticated by the Foundation, no one else’s Warhols would fall in value.

Instead, I incline to a combination of incompetence (the Foundation refusing to accept that Warhol was happy making “remote-control art” as early as 1965) and personal animus towards Richard Ekstract, who was responsible for physically making the paintings. Maybe the problem is that he’s simply too high-profile: while the likes of Gerard Malanga and Billy Name will always go down in history as Warhol assistants, Ekstract is very much his own person, and was successful before Warhol was. You can get assistants to make paintings, seems to be the implicit statement here: you just can’t get anybody important to do it. How idiotically snobbish can you get.

(Many thanks to the great Heather Horn both for finding the Dorment piece and for including my blog entry on him in her Warhol round-up.)

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We already know that endowed foundations attract unhealthy characters over time, and there is a body of literature that recommends we tax them to closure within a generation. Partly because they become private political advocacy organizations, partly because they engage in all sorts of nefarious activity – because they are insulated from the market process, which is exactly why they attract the sort of character that they do.

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