PORTRAIT: AN EXCHANGE
The little bull of a man accosted me during a cocktail party at the Odeon in Tribeca. "You don't have your facts straight," he said in so many words, forcefully. "You've got it completely wrong." The man was Joel Wachs, the former Los Angeles county politician who has long headed the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. He was referring to a little editorial in Artnet News that was sympathetic to the London-based film producer Joe Simon, who has just ended his highly publicized -- and now unsuccessful -- lawsuit against the foundation seeking to have his 1964 Andy Warhol red Self-Portrait authenticated as a genuine work by the artist.
The art world loves the Warhol Foundation. It spreads a lot of money around on worthy art causes, giving grants for hip exhibitions big and small, and also funds a special Creative Capital program for individual artists. It even gives grants to art critics.
As it happens, the settlement of the litigation between Simon and the Warhol Foundation has just been made final by Judge Andrew J. Peck of U.S. District Court. Each party promptly issued a statement, and Artnet News is pleased to post them here.
According to the agreement, both parties drop any claims they might have against the other. Simon admits that his allegations against the foundation were groundless, including the charge that it controls the market for Warhol artworks (despite the well-known fact that art dealers and auction houses decline to handle Warhol works that lack the foundation’s imprimatur). And the foundation agrees that it won’t pursue Simon for any of the substantial costs of his unsuccessful lawsuit.
The settlement does not require Simon to take down his extensive website documenting his case, but it does prohibit him from profiting from any book, movie, article or other production related to it. An interesting stipulation, as Simon notes he has completed a script for a sequel to Priscilla Queen of the Desert, which he has sold to SONY. Profits from any prospective work based on the case -- and it sounds like it might make an amusing musical comedy -- Simon says he would dedicate to Literacy Partners in New York.
The statements from the two parties follow:
Statement from the Andy Warhol Foundation
By order of the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, dated November 15, 2010, all claims by plaintiffs Joe Simon-Whelan and Susan Shaer against the Andy Warhol Foundation, the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board and all other defendants have been dismissed. Calling it a "complete vindication of both the Foundation and the Authentication Board," Foundation President Joel Wachs pointed to the express provisions of the Court’s Orders whereby plaintiffs admit that there is absolutely no evidence, nor have they ever been aware of any evidence, of any illegal conduct by either the Foundation or the Authentication Board in connection with the sale and authentication of Warhol artwork.
"The tragedy," Wachs said, "is that we had to spend nearly $7 million defending what was nothing more than a blatant attempt to shake down the Foundation. While it would have been easy to give them some money to go away, it was extremely important to fight to uphold the integrity of both the Foundation and the Authentication Board and to not set a dangerous precedent for others who might also be driven by greed and vindictiveness."
Wachs praised the Foundation’s attorneys, Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP, but noted that "the money we had to spend on legal fees diverted precious resources which would otherwise have been spent in pursuit of our mission to support the visual arts. It is money that should have gone to the many exemplary arts organizations that rely upon the Warhol Foundation, particularly in times of financial crisis."
Indeed, since its inception the Warhol Foundation has given away more than $200,000,000 to worthy artists and arts organizations in all 50 states in support of exhibitions, artist residencies, curatorial research, scholarly writing, and the defense of freedom of expression. "It is a record of which we are extremely proud," said Michael Straus, Chair of the Warhol Foundation’s Board of Directors, "and one that is without equal in the United States."
Statement by Joe Simon
It is with great regret that I have had to end my lawsuit against the Andy Warhol Foundation. I simply do not have the funds or resources available to fight an organization, which has acknowledged it is currently spending up to $450,000 per month to defend the case. I have now spent eight and a half years fastidiously gathering scholarly evidence to support my painting, and still firmly stand by all the facts regarding the red self-portraits.
I am deeply saddened that I was unable to reveal the truth in court, but when faced with threats of bankruptcy, continuing personal attacks and counterclaims, I realized I no longer stood a chance of proceeding further.
There was I believe virtually no limit to the amount of money the Foundation was willing to spend to ensure that this case would never come to trial. When my legal representation asked to withdraw from the litigation due to the enormous workload created by mountains of extraneous motions continuously filed by the foundation's legal team, I was forced to accept the reality of my position.
In addition, lawyers for the Foundation bullied, threatened, and smeared many who supported my lawsuit, including my own lawyer, a sole practitioner, who was so was concerned about his own assets that he had to resort to hiring his own legal team to represent him in court.
I wish it had been possible to continue alone, but clearly this was absolutely not practical, so I had no other choice but to sign a document bringing the case to a close. I wish to stress, however, that I have not agreed to deny the authenticity of the Red Self Portrait, as originally demanded by the Foundation.
I firmly believe that the Warhol Foundation should not be able to continually get away with suppressing scholarly debate about important Warhol works.
The investigation I began has not been brought to a conclusion but no doubt many others who feel passionately about this injustice will continue to campaign to fight for a truthful resolution.
I have no doubt whatsoever that in time this series of Red Self Portraits will be seen by art historians as a turning point in the way Warhol thought about his art in the mid 1960s.
I would like to personally thank the many art historians, museum directors, artists, and those who actually worked alongside Warhol in the factory at the time when these works were created. These people have had the courage to speak out -sometimes at great personal and financial sacrifice - against the authentication board's calculated distortion of art history. The lawsuit may be over, but I shall continue to work outside of the court system to prove what many so strongly believe.
I ask those curators and scholars who supported me in private but who were unable to speak out while the case was ongoing now to come forward.