‘THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS AN AUTHENTIC WARHOL EDisbanding the Warhol Authentication Board

Andy Warhol and The Factory in 1963. Credit: Dennis Hopper.


Andy Warhol once said, “I turned to the idea of using a rubber stamp signature because I wanted to get away from style. I feel an artist’s signature is part of the style, and I don’t believe in style E[1]. Warhol’s signature stamp (Fig. 1) is one of many ways he challenged authorship. Through silk-screening’s mechanical process of creation, Warhol undermines the concept of authenticity at the artist’s hand by repeating the same image. He entertained verisimilitude—the appearance of genuineness—and continued to question originality through subject matter, selection, and process.


Obsessed with assembly-line manufacturing, Warhol named his studio The Factory. He had a hands-off approach to creating works of art in which he delegated the execution to his assistants. The most famous assistant during The Factory years is Gerard Malanga, who worked alongside Warhol for seven years and is well known for his part in creating the piece Triple Elvis [2]. With the exception of selecting the source, Warhol seldom created his work. According to Paul Morrissey, former manager of The Factory, “There’s no such thing as an authentic Warhol E[3]. Consequently, the lack of Warhol’s physical participation in creation makes authentication problematic.


After his death in 1987, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts was established in accordance with Warhol’s will. Six years later, the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board was created in association as a private corporation dealing solely with issues of authenticity. The authentication board manages Warhol’s artistic legacy by selecting pieces for the catalogue raisonné, a printed collection of an artist’s main body of work determined by art historians. The purpose of a catalogue raisonné is to register details about the works for identification purposes. This information includes images, titles, dimensions, materials, and sometimes provenance. Warhol’s catalogue raisonné includes roughly 10,000 works created between 1961 and 1987 [4]. He created a profound body of work during his lifetime, but a sizeable amount is still excluded from the authentication board’s catalogue raisonné.


According to members of the board, authentication is based primarily on Warhol’s supervision during the creation of a work of art [5]. Yet, this method of validation contradicts Warhol’s intentions of denying any existence of artistic style. Because of this paradox, the board is under scrutiny for their method of authentication. While authentication boards play a key role in defining an artist’s oeuvre, the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board should disband due to the challenging nature of Warhol’s mass-produced legacy, which makes attributing authenticity a difficult chore—especially when the very concept of the work subverts authorship completely.





In 2005, Gerard Malanga sued renowned sculptor and colleague John Chamberlain for selling an art piece called 315 Johns [6]. The work (Fig. 2) consists of 315 eight-by-eight-inch silkscreened canvases in the style of Andy Warhol. Chamberlain claims that 315 Johns is an authentic Warhol, but Malanga says that it is a fake. Malanga contends that he created it with the help of two other artist friends, Irene Harris and Jim Jacobs, in 1971 [7]. Peculiarly, the work’s subject matter is John Chamberlain’s face (Fig. 3) repeated 315 times.


With Jim Jacobs Eassistance, Malanga says he created the piece after his time at The Factory and without Warhol’s knowledge. In addition, Malanga clarifies that 315 Johns is actually comprised of 320 portraits [8]. Jacobs was Chamberlain’s assistant at the time of creation and substantiates Malanga’s account of collaborating on a portrait to honor Chamberlain. Jacobs stored the canvases until 1977 when he moved them to Chamberlain’s studio for safekeeping [9]. The work remained untouched in Chamberlain’s care until 1999 when he assembled 315 of the square canvases into one piece of art and submitted it to the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board. The following year, the board authenticated 315 Johns and Chamberlain sold it for $3.8 million [10].


While Chamberlain acknowledges the possibility that Malanga is responsible for creating the canvases, he insists that Warhol conceived the idea of 315 Johns. Be that as it may, Chamberlain’s ex-wife testifies that he frequently referred to the canvases as ‘phony EWarhols [11]. That fact remains that Chamberlain assembled the canvases to create a finished piece of art in order to submit it to the board for authentication. In the courtroom, fabricating an artwork out of unfinished or discarded pieces by another artist is considered forgery [12]. However, according to Michael J. Clark, Associate Professor of law at Portland State University, most scholars believe that “what matters is how the work looks, not who made it, owned it, or signed it E[13]. Because the canvases are in the style of Warhol, Chamberlain was able to pass 315 Johns to the board as an authentic Warhol. Furthermore, because of Chamberlain’s reputation and status in the art world, Malanga believes that the board accepted the piece uncontested and without investigation of provenance.


Chamberlain’s story conflicts with Malanga’s and is hazy, to say the least. Chamberlain declares that 315 Johns is authentic and claims that he acquired the piece in 1968 from a trade with Warhol for one of his sculptures [14]. Along with his account and the board’s authentication of 315 Johns, Chamberlain requested summary judgment using the equitable defense of the Doctrine of Laches. Laches bars a person from making a claim if they neglect to act within a reasonable amount of time; summary judgment asks the court to compare one person’s word against another’s based on the initial presentation of facts [15]. Laches would require the court to consider the facts in Chamberlain’s favor, but the court denied summary judgment due to lack of proof and insufficient documentation. For example, Chamberlain cannot produce a Bill of Sale, a contract that certifies the transaction, nor can he recall the identity of the buyer.


The Malanga v. Chamberlain case deals with complex issues including authorship, ownership, and authenticity. Malanga claims his canvases used in 315 Johns were not Chamberlain’s to sell and more importantly, the board’s authentication is bogus. But did Malanga wait too long to get the canvases back? According to Chamberlain, the three-year statute of limitations in New York works against Malanga’s claim [16]. Chamberlain also contends that once Jacobs moved the canvases to his studio, Malanga neglected to retrieve them. Therefore, Malanga forfeits his right to claim ownership at the time that Chamberlain submitted the work for authentication initiating the statute of limitations.


On the contrary, Malanga ran into Chamberlain at the Art Dealers Association of America fair in 2004. It was then that he first heard of the sale of 315 Johns [17]. A year later, Malanga filed for replevin, conversion, and breach of bailment contract. Replevin is an action for recovery of any unlawfully taken personal property; conversion is claiming ownership over someone else’s property; and breach of contract allows for a six-year time period from the demand of the goods and the subsequent refusal for its return [18]. Due to the lack of a Bill of Sale, the statute of limitations is currently up for debate. Malanga is requesting either the return of the piece or $250,000 in damages.


Like most cases surrounding authenticity, Malanga v. Chamberlain is slow moving. In 2008, the court finally decided to move forward with the proceedings to determine if 315 Johns is or is not a Warhol. The court granted Malanga a leave to amend giving him the chance to reassert his claims in order to defeat Chamberlain’s motion for summary judgment. Chamberlain then appealed in January 2010, but two months later, the appellate court denied his motion to dismiss because he still could not produce any evidence of the sale. As of today, the case is back to square one. So long as both parties have the funds to keep it going, Malanga v. Chamberlain could remain in the judicial system for a long time.




In the eyes of the court, the board’s authentication is merely an opinion. The court uses three substantial methods for determining authenticity: provenance, stylistic verification, and scientific analysis [19]. First, the court examines a history of documentation, including the creation and ownership of the piece. This process often involves interviewing the creator unless he is deceased, which requires questioning relatives and colleagues. Second, the court consults connoisseurs, or art historians, who are knowledgeable with the styles, techniques, and materials of the artist to confirm or deny the likelihood of attribution. Lastly, if attribution is still uncertain, the court depends on scientific methods such as carbon dating [20].


Attributing a work of art to an artist is tricky business, especially when it comes to authenticating a Warhol. By detaching himself from the execution of his work, he denied any originality in his pieces making copies of copies. It is important to note that the court’s determination of authenticity vastly differs from that of the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board. Rather than using the court’s explicit methods of attribution, experts usually focus on Warhol’s particular style, whether or not he conceived it, and if he supervised the creation. The board has an A-B-C rating system for their conclusions. An authentic Warhol gets an A. However, one that is “not the work of Andy Warhol Egets a B. Lastly, a C is given to a piece if the board cannot form a conclusion [21]. Moreover, conclusions sometimes vary from one expert to the next [22].


The Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board is considered the sole authority on Warhol originality. The main members include experts Neil Printz, an art historian in charge of Warhol’s catalogue raisonné, and Sally King-Nero, the executive editor and curator for The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts [23]. The board welcomes collectors to submit their Warhols for authentication providing they waive their right to challenge the decision in court [24]. If authenticated, the board can include the piece in the catalogue raisonné, which facilitates resale at the escalating market value. If the work is rejected, they reserve the right to brand it with a stamp of denial (Fig. 4), which significantly devalues the piece and deters future buyers.



In the most prominent rejection case, the board denied Joe Simon-Whelan’s Self-Portrait by Andy Warhol twice [25]. In his second submission, Simon-Whelan provided additional documentation attributing it to Warhol including authentication by Fred Hughes, Warhol’s chief executor of the estate. Hughes wrote on the edge of the canvas, “I certify that this is an original painting by Andy Warhol completed by him in 1964 E[26]. In spite of Simon-Whelan’s credentials, the board refuses to authenticate the self-portrait due to the lack of proof that Warhol consented with its creation in the first place [27].


Frustrated with the decision, Simon-Whelan believes in a conspiracy set forth by the board to control Warhol’s market [28]. He filed several complaints against the board before the Federal District Court of New York in 2007, which is currently under investigation. Simon-Whelan’s most credible claim is that the board violates the Sherman anti-trust act, which prohibits any contracts controlling the buying and selling of goods, or in other words, monopolization. In response to the lawsuit, the Warhol board says the mandatory waiver should bar the suit, but the court dismissed it [29]. The Simon-Whelan v. The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts case is also a class act stressing a need for transparency and accountability of the board. Simon-Whelan hopes to reveal the board’s deceitful practices demanding an amendment to their methods as well as the removal of the waiver for any legal recourse. If the suit is successful, the board’s authority will be eradicated opening the market up to works previously unauthenticated by the board.


One disbanding worth mentioning is the Pollock-Krasner Authentication Board, which dissolved in 1996 under a similar situation with numerous complaints in court [30]. In the case Vitale v. Marlborough Gallery, art dealer Joan Vitale presented a supposed Jackson Pollock painting to Lee Krasner for verification, but the painting was confiscated under suspicions of forgery [31]. It was returned in 1974, but four years later, Vitale discovered the painting listed as a fake in the Pollock catalogue raisonné. This public rejection prevented Vitale from selling it and recovering any losses. So in 1993, Vitale finally filed suit against the Marlborough Gallery, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and the Pollock-Krasner Authentication Board with an anti-trust claim contending their monopoly over the sale of Jackson Pollock’s work. Although the court found some merit in Vitale’s argument, the case was dismissed under the statute of limitations [32]. Nowadays, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation refuses to authenticate any alleged Pollocks or Krasners [33].


Whether or not Simon-Whelan’s conspiracy theory is true, secrecy is crucial in the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board’s decision-making process [34]. By refusing to offer any explanation for rejecting or accepting work, the board has developed a reputation for concealment, thus appearing to monopolize the market to suit the interests of the foundation. According to The Economist’s art market journalist, Sarah Thornton:
The Warhol market is probably the most complex market in the field of contemporary art. The hierarchy of works reflects a fine balance between rarity and popularity, size and subject matter. The most expensive years are 1962, 1963, and 1964, but the quality of the silkscreen factors into the price. Whether the picture is “fresh to market Eor has been repeatedly resold also has an impact on its desirability [35].
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts sponsored a two-volume publication of their catalogue raisonné featuring authenticated works from 1961 to 1963 [36] and 1964 to 1969 [37]. The publication serves as a reference for collectors and dealers. Since the foundation possesses the bulk of Warhol’s oeuvre, it is safe to say that protecting Warhol’s artistic legacy is of great interest to the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board.




Like many art authentication boards, the Warhol board formed to protect the integrity of the artist’s work. Good intentions aside, authentication boards are selective with attributing artwork and not every submission is accepted. The Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board is notoriously unpopular—not simply for their rejections, but for their prejudices. Numerous collectors and dealers complain that the board is biased when it comes to the submitter’s reputation. For instance, a minor dealer submitted one of Warhol’s flower paintings and was denied. He acquired a second opinion from a major dealer confirming its originality. This dealer had a rapport with the estate and agreed to resubmit it in exchange for half-ownership. Low and behold, the board authenticated the flowers [38].


Take, for instance, a big name artist like John Chamberlain. The board accepted Chamberlain’s alternate history of 315 Johns as a true Warhol on the basis of his reputation and friendship with Warhol. The case of 315 Johns further confirms the board’s rubric of authenticity in accordance of whether or not the artwork is “in the style of EWarhol. The board clearly failed to investigate the history of 315 Johns. Had the board consulted Warhol’s colleagues to corroborate Chamberlain’s story, further investigation might save the misattribution of 315 Johns.


It might interest the art world to survey the percentage of authenticated Warhol works compared to the rest on the market. In terms of monetary value, the fear of purchasing an unauthenticated Warhol matters only to the savvy collector or dealer, which lies in the hands of the authentication board. Ronald Spencer, the exclusive lawyer to the board, insists, “All works that are ‘not by Warhol Eare not all fakes. This is to say, a fake is a work created with intent to deceive E[39]. In light of the testimony from Chamberlain’s ex-wife, Spencer’s definition would mean 315 Johns is a fake and a forgery; Chamberlain submitted it to the board intending to falsely sell it as a Warhol.


In contrast to the case of 315 Johns, Joe Simon-Whelan submitted an entire binder full of documentation supporting his submission, but the board still denied it [40]. Another dealer submitted five Warhol works purchased from the Andy Warhol estate stamped with certified serial numbers. Four came back authenticated, but the fifth was denied [41]. Curiously, the board operates independently from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and frequently ignores certification from the estate thereby acting as a rogue.


Another story of authentication-by-association involves the late Swedish curator Pontus Hulten, who is responsible for Warhol’s first European retrospective in 1968 at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. Notably, the retrospective exhibit featured 500 Brillo boxes in the museum’s lobby. In June 2007, a Swedish newspaper reported a scandal concerning 105 wooden Brillo boxes appearing for sale at auction houses that were allegedly part of the 1968 retrospective. In actuality, the boxes were created 22 years later in Malmo, Sweden—three years after Warhol’s death. Not to mention, the key discrepancy: the 1968 boxes were made of cardboard, not wood [42].


According to Hulten, the wooden boxes were made “according to Andy Warhol’s instructions Ein a verbal agreement. Yet, the boxes started circulating in collectors Ecircles shortly after fabrication in 1990. Before Hulten’s death in 2006, he sold numerous wooden Brillo boxes with forged certificates of authenticity. His reputation as a friend of Warhol and esteemed player in the art world was undisputed, allowing fraudulent boxes into circulation and authenticated by the board. Several dealers and associates aware of Hulten’s sham notified the board warning them of fake Brillo boxes. Despite these alerts, the board authenticated 94 wooden boxes during 1995 and 1998. All of which are included in the 2004 catalogue raisonné as authentic and that even with “slight discrepancies, Ethe wooden boxes “may be said to constitute a uniform edition" [43].


Several months after hearing about the Stockholm scandal, the board notified dealers and collectors issuing a statement in December 2007. The official notice stated that the board was not sure if the boxes were made in accordance with a verbal agreement with the artist, therefore an investigation was under way. While the Brillo-box scandal surfaced three years ago, the board’s opinion of authenticity remains unlamented. Whether or not Hulten fabricated the boxes as an opportunistic ploy to profit on the Warhol market, his motivation is unknown [44].




Protecting the artist’s legacy is a legitimate argument for the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board. However, their methods are unscrupulous and their decisions are inconsistent. Regardless of the court’s final decision in both Malanga and Simon-Whelan’s case, the board should disband due to the challenging nature of Warhol’s artwork. Thus, collectors and dealers should have the right to sell their Warhol works at fair market value without supplementary authentication from the board.


It is argued that, without the board’s existence, an abundance of fraudulent works could potentially enter into the marketplace and wrongly sell as original works by Andy Warhol. Silk-screening is a popular printmaking technique, which makes forgery effortless. With the accessibility of computer programs such as Adobe Photoshop, all one needs to create a Warhol knock-off is to transfer the image to a screen and start printing. On the contrary, these screens are copies of previous copies leading to a breakdown of image quality that is without doubt noticeable to art historians. In that case, connoisseurship, a sort of art forensics, is useful in analyzing the materials used for creating a work of art. By analyzing pigments, connoisseurs can determine the era of materials used compared to materials readily available at the time of the so-called date of creation. This tedious process ultimately leads to a decision of either authentic or fake.


When it comes to authentication, the board defines connoisseurship more in terms of quality and supervision. Therefore, connoisseurship and scientific analysis does not come into play during a debate of authenticity. It is debatable whether questioning authenticity is even an issue when dealing with Andy Warhol. In Warhol’s eyes, forgery was only an issue if someone else profited from his name. Unlike other artists, Warhol never destroyed his screens [45]. Sometimes he even signed fakes with ‘This is not by me. Andy Warhol E[46]. Warhol considered his art a commodity and himself a producer [47]. His willingness to endorse a piece of art with his name promptly developed into a Warhol brand. This “anyone can do it Eattitude canceled out the very idea of a brand. It does not matter whether Andy Warhol created it, Gerard Malanga or any of his other assistants and master printers; his entire body of work is essentially Warholesque.


That is not saying that blatant forgery in contemporary art should be tolerated. Works of art must be managed down to the history, documentation, and corroboration. If artists today wish to protect their legacy, they are responsible for thorough documentation of their work. There are a number of organizations that serve this purpose including Fine Art Registry and the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR). Fine Art Registry provides an identification system to artists that register their works online establishing documentation of provenance and certificates of authenticity [48]. IFAR offers extensive services relating to the integrity of art ranging from legal aid to theft and authenticity. One major service of interest is their impartial investigation into a work’s authenticity where all names of experts, owners, and dealers are kept confidential [49]. Such a committee might alleviate further litigation.


If the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board were to disband, there is no maximum-value guarantee to the rising inflation of the Warhol market. Money will always be an issue when dealing with art of such celebrity status. Nonetheless, anyone can own a Warhol and buy a digital print to decorate a lofty apartment. In 1966, Andy Warhol posted an advertisement in The Village Voice stating, “I’ll endorse with my name any of the following: clothing AC-DC, cigarettes, small tapes, sound equipment, ROCK ‘N EROLL RECORDS, anything, film, and film equipment, Food, Helium, Whips. MONEY!! love and kisses ANDY WARHOL EL 5-9941 E[50]. These days, Andy Warhol merchandise is everywhere. It is not limited to handbags, magnets, prints, dinner plates, perfume, clothing, and so on.


Any artist reaching celebrity status faces authenticity issues, especially when vast sums of money are involved. Warhol embraced his superstar status of pop idol. He is arguably the most successful entrepreneurial artist of the twentieth century. Warhol changed everything from subject matter to materials to process. As a result, art is no longer traditional. As time passes, the belief that a work of art is more meaningful through direct connection with the artist’s touch is an increasingly atypical principle. Given that there is a story behind every art piece, the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board’s procedure of scrutinizing the process of making is inadequate in determining true authenticity. Whether or not Warhol was present during the production of his works is beside the point. Furthermore, the only original aspect of Andy Warhol is his original thinking. The absolute genius in his work is his escape from authorship. Without authorship, Warhol is simply a name, a producer, and a sponsor.


UPDATE: In early 2012, the Warhol Authentication Board officially disbanded. The Andy Warhol Foundation now focuses its efforts solely on grant-making and charitable goals. However, the Foundation continues to establish its Warhol-approved catalogue raisonné.