NEW YORK (Reuters) - An American man who says he owns an Andy Warhol self-portrait sued the artist’s foundation, estate and authentication board on Monday for refusing to validate his silk-screen piece and defrauding art buyers.
Joe Simon-Whelan, a film producer who lives in London, filed the class action lawsuit in federal court in Manhattan seeking $20 million on behalf of himself and others he claims have been duped by the foundation, which was set up after the pop artist’s death 20 years ago.
The suit said the foundation controlled the Warhol art market by branding real Warhol paintings fakes to raise the value of Warhol works the foundation holds. It estimated the foundation had sold more than $150 million of Warhol’s artwork at artificially inflated prices.
Simon-Whelan claims the foundation formed and controls the authentication board, which was set up in 1995.
K.C. Maurer, the foundation’s chief financial officer, said she could not comment on the lawsuit as they had not been served, but she said the foundation made grants to contemporary visual arts organizations and had no role in authenticating works.
The suit claims that before Simon-Whelan acquired the painting, the Warhol foundation and estate authenticated it on multiple occasions in the late 1980s and early 1990s — before the authentication board was created. The work passed through several major dealers, including Christie’s auction house, which vetted the painting’s authenticity.
Simon-Whelan’s painting, a 1964 Warhol self-portrait called “Double Denied” in the lawsuit, was twice denied authentication by The Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board in 2001 and 2003, according to the suit.
He planned to sell it for $2 million after purchasing it for $195,000 in 1989.
“The authentication board is utilized to remove competing Warhol artwork from the marketplace by falsely declaring it to be inauthentic, thereby raising the value of the foundation’s own holdings,” the lawsuit said.
Both the foundation and the authentication board “provide a facade of corporate credibility obscuring a deeply corrupt enterprise that enables defendants to benefit from Warhol’s art and reputation,” the suit said.
It was impossible to sell a Warhol painting without getting a stamp of authenticity, and the board often reversed previous stamps of approval, the lawsuit said.
Calls to the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board were not returned.