A few years after Andy died in 1987, whispers abounded that, if you visited a certain tavern in Hell’s Kitchen and asked the right bartender, you could purchase one of the silkscreens that Rupert Smith used to create many late Warhols, get your own squeegee and make "Andys" yourself. Allegedly Smith, dying of AIDS, felt embittered by his treatment by Warhol’s minions and sought revenge. I myself viewed a "Warhol" Last Supper in a basement on Bond Street in the early ‘90s, nearly buying it for a few hundred dollars, but I was outbid.
So ubiquitous is the exfiltration of Warhol’s worldview into Western culture that everyone wants a piece of it -- hence, the emergence of the Warhol Authenticity Board, sued for $20 million this week by a British film producer who tried to get its stamp of approval on his 1964 Warhol double self-portrait and failed.
In a general sense, bearding "Andy" with "Authenticity" is the ultimate high-tone, limitless joke. The Authentication Board, with its four descending categories of legitimacy, casts items such as the aforementioned silkscreens into the circular file labeled "ephemera," a.k.a. DOA in dollar value.
Yet who has churned out more Warhol ephemera in buckets than the Warhol Foundation, appointer of said board, with its licensing agreements and tchotchkes? Throughout Andy’s career, pre- and posthumous, the collectible rule of thumb has been an expanding universe. First, only pre-shooting (1968) Warhols were worth anything. Then his ‘70s society portraits went from dreck to gold (though supposedly one can still purchase an unknown subject for under $100,000). Editions like "Ten Portraits of Jews of the 20th Century"? Once shit, now priceless.
By this logic of growth, laissez-faire is the way to go: that Andy manqué self-portrait T-shirt Paris Hilton wore last week may be, spiritually, the truest Warhol yet. Time to abolish authenticity and its boring board and let the market be our guide, until, sometime in the future, it collapses under its own weight, and once again, we’ll have a world without Warhols.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).