Friday, January 27, 2006

Warhol or Not Warhol

What a charmless and vapid creature Warhol was. And how cold and affectless is his art - the apotheosis of the graphic designer. And of course how little of it he even touched after he became successful - apart from taking the odd polaroid. Much of his work is flat and perfunctory, the result of what Robert Hughes described as a "Franklin Mint" approach to subject matter. Whatever life and originality was there (and I did find his "Electric Chair" a powerful piece) disappeared after he was shot.

Alan Yentob and the BBC did a superb programme last Tuesday (Warhol: Denied) on the machinations of the New York-based vetting committee set up by the Warhol foundation. This foundation tightly controls the release of Warhols onto the market and jealously guards (aided and abetted by the auction houses) the right to say what's real and what is not. An English owner of an early Warhol self-portrait submitted it for authentication prior to auction, confident that it would get the nod. But it was denied, and had a dirty great stamp put on the back of the canvas that effectively destroyed it - the right to do this being part of getting the commitee to vet your piece. Now his piece instead of being worth $2 million, has only "decorative value" in the words of his solicitor. The point of the programme was to demonstrate how difficult it actually was to say what an authentic Warhol is because of his extremely off-hand (and hands off) approach to his work. He frequently didn't sign them, he rarely chose the colours, and he never went near the silk screen sweat shops where the bulk of his later work was mass produced. So in fact the only way you can prove a Warhol is authentic is to have the vetting committee say so - and they refuse to give reasons if they deny you. Such power corrupts. John Richardson the art critic maintained that he would never put his Warhol pieces up for auction as he was afraid that the vetting committee would deny them even though he had received them directly from Warhol.

You can't help feeling that the vast stash of Warhols still held by his foundation are playing a part in this charade.