Warhol After Warhol by Richard Dorment review – after Andy: the art of the deal
Andy Warhol’s early work involved satirizing the idea of art being revered and highly priced. He utilized tabloid headlines and replicated mass-produced items found in supermarkets, and even named his studio the Factory. His clever subversion was met with great success, as he was able to generate significant wealth through his art. At the time of his death in 1987, his estate was valued at $220 million.
Following Warhol’s passing, a foundation created in his honor pledged to distribute his wealth to artists in need and support a reliable collection of his work. To prevent the spread of counterfeit pieces, an authentication board was established. The board made decisions based on its own authority, and in 2001, it determined that a silk-screen self-portrait belonging to American collector Joe Simon (also known as Joe Simon-Whelan) was not created by Warhol, despite being signed and inscribed by his business manager. Simon’s print was returned to him with a stamp of DENIED in red ink, rendering it valueless as it had penetrated the canvas.
Simon turned to Richard Dorment, the art critic for the Daily Telegraph, for assistance after his print was rejected without explanation. At first, Dorment saw Simon as a bother but eventually understood his predicament and believed in the authenticity of his print. Further investigation revealed that the board had overlooked crucial evidence and may have rejected the print to align with their preferred narrative about Warhol’s techniques. As Dorment delved deeper into Simon’s case, he also stumbled upon another intriguing situation. In 1991, a collector’s 44 Warhol paintings were deemed forgeries but were later reconsidered and 35 of them were sold for millions by the foundation. Dorment humorously compares this situation to The Godfather, saying that the issue of authentication had been deliberately hidden and dismissed.
After eight years of legal back and forth, Simon ultimately withdrew his claims in 2010. However, according to Dorment, he still feels bitter about the whole ordeal. While the foundation was not at fault, they did make changes to their handling of Warhol’s estate, including shutting down the authentication board. In its place, an auction house was hired to sell thousands of works online, resulting in a commercial frenzy. In 2013, a pair of boxer shorts with a dollar sign sold for $16,000, labeled as a mere “novelty item” in the inventory. This goes against the subversive message of pop art, which aimed to challenge the overvaluation of traditional art.
Dorment’s book is haunted by the famous Warhol, portrayed as a weak and shallow ghost with a silver wig. In contrast, the individuals fighting over his legacy are depicted as lively and sometimes frightening. One of these individuals, Simon, had his expensive legal fees paid for by a Russian oligarch. The oligarch even invited Simon on a private jet trip to Latvia to cheer him up. Fortunately, Simon declined the offer as his friend, who refused to pay a large bribe to Putin’s bank account, was later abducted and killed by Kremlin’s enforcers during the trip. Dorment also amusingly reveals that the foundation’s main lawyer has a questionable past, defending mafia bosses in a murder trial and suing his own mother for slander.
Recent events serve as a conclusion to the story. Through my research on Google, I discovered that the lawyer who aimed to discredit Simon by attacking his character ended up representing Donald Trump’s business manager, who was imprisoned for colluding with his employer to evade taxes earlier this year. This is not the only link between Simon’s complaint and the struggling Trump Organization. Dorment also mentions a disgruntled collector who attempted to sue the Warhol Foundation for fraud, collusion, and market manipulation. Similar to Simon’s case, this lawsuit did not go anywhere. However, Trump, who inflated his assets to deceive banks into lending him money, is currently being tried in New York for a range of crimes. It’s all too easy to transition from technical discussions about Warhol prints to the sleazy tactics of what Trump calls “the art of the deal”. When Donald Trump Jr was called to testify in the New York trial in November, he could only offer a defense based on aesthetics. He boasted about his father’s creativity in coming up with the lucrative idea of a condominium hotel and gloated about the “artistry” on display at a Trump golf club.
Dorment’s study exposes him to “a previously unexplored area of law: art law”. The combination of these two disparate fields is unexpected and does not benefit either one. The legal profession now centers on using deceitful language, while art, as Don Jr.’s praise suggests, is synonymous with showmanship and dishonesty. Even long after the initial dispute, the argument over a silk screen becomes a symbol of our ethically confused era: we are currently experiencing a crisis of fundamental truths.
The book “Warhol After Warhol: Power and Money in the Modern World” by Richard Dorment is available from Picador for £20. You can purchase a copy at guardianbookshop.com to support the Guardian and Observer. Additional delivery charges may apply.
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