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Monday, November 02, 2015

Art Forgery & Its Discontents

As the New York Times recently observed, forgery is a big problem in the art world. When a work of art can be worth millions of dollars, based entirely on its attribution to a particular artist, the incentive to create fakes is huge. And it is probably even more substantial for lower value works, which may receive less scrutiny. Until recently, foundations associated with the estates of various artists at least mitigated the forgery problem by creating authentication committees that opined on whether particular artworks were "authentic" works created by that artist.

But in the face of lawsuits from disgruntled collectors who were surprised to learn that they owned "inauthentic" works, most foundations shuttered their authentication committees. The demise of the institutional authentication committee is really no surprise, given the rather metaphysical aspect of asking whether an artwork attributed to Andy Warhol or Jeff Koons is "authentic." And it's especially troublesome in Warhol's case, given his laissez-faire attitude about attribution. Moreover, there were real concerns about potential conflicts of interest, given that the foundations operating the authentication committees often owned a substantial number of attributed works themselves.

However, ArtNews reports that well-known Warhol expert Richard Polsky has launched a new one-man Warhol authentication service. Only $2,500 per! While Polsky can probably avoid at least some of the conflict of interest allegations that hounded the Warhol Foundation's late Art Authentication Board, I anticipate other potential issues. For example, it seems that Polsky has a rather strong incentive to lean in favor of finding that works are authentic. Curiously, his authentication service only requires the submission of digital photos. Perhaps he plans to look at the actual works in question if he is uncertain? But then again, in the ArtNews interview, Polsky repeatedly claims a "sixth sense" as to whether putative Warhol's are authentic. With great power comes great responsibility? I'm not sure I trust Polsky's spider-sense as much as he does.


Posted by Brian Frye on November 2, 2015 at 05:42 PM | Permalink


I'm inclined to agree. But still, it could make for a nice conceptual art project, depending on the market for Polsky-pieces.

Posted by: Brian L. Frye | Nov 2, 2015 9:15:12 PM

You're not paying $2,500 to find out if your Warhol is authentic; you're paying $2,500 for a genuine Richard Polsky Warhol authentication.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Nov 2, 2015 7:56:46 PM

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