Richard Polsky writes:
As the owner of Richard Polsky Art Authentication, I’ve always believed that authenticity is the bedrock of any art transaction, which seems to have been proven out by the constant stream of related articles in the New York Times. During the last six months alone, we’ve been treated to the spectacle of the Knoedler gallery scandal for selling fake canvases by Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, and others. Then there was the dealer Mary Boone pulling a bait and switch of a Ross Bleckner painting on the actor Alec Baldwin. This was followed by London’s James Mayor Gallery suing the Pace Gallery, over their rejection of 13 Agnes Martin works that they once sold, for inclusion in the catalog raisonne that Pace is in the process of compiling.
Recently, we expanded beyond our core business of exclusively authenticating the work of Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring. We now offer a “Preliminary Opinion” service, which will focus on the work of 39 significant Post-War & Contemporary artists — and Georgia O’Keeffe. Rather than an in-depth authentication analysis, our new concept is to offer a client a credible, but affordable opinion, on the probability of a painting being genuine or not.
The logic behind branching out into 40 additional artists is based on the complete abandonment of authentication responsibilities by virtually every major artist’s estate. As followers of the art world know, the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board closed up shop five years ago. Their decision was almost entirely based on incurring millions of dollars in legal fees to defend themselves against lawsuits, brought by disgruntled clients whose works were rejected. Immediately following the Warhol board’s announcement, the authentication committees for Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and others, all followed suit. Each of them cited the same reason; fear of being sued.
In 2015, when I sent out an announcement that I had formed an art authentication company, I was immediately inundated with inquires, all asking the same thing, “How are you going to protect yourself from being sued?” The simple answer was by being completely transparent (though I still have the client sign a disclaimer). When a collector signed a release with the Warhol estate, he agreed to allow them to stamp the back of his painting with the word “Denied,” if they concluded it was a fake. When the collector wanted to know why it was rejected, he was given the unsatisfying answer, “We can’t tell you because we don’t want to aid counterfeiters.” While most owners simply shrugged, a number of people felt they were treated unfairly, and took action. My guess is that if the Warhol people had just leveled with these painting owners, much of the litigation, which led to their ultimate demise, could have been avoided.
Part of my motivation for starting Richard Polsky Art Authentication was the opportunity to be involved with something that was intellectually satisfying. I enjoy using a body of knowledge that I had acquired from many years of studying art. Additionally, I frequently found myself smiling after informing a client that his Warhol was the real deal; having to tell a client his painting was a fake wasn’t a good feeling. Not surprisingly, those who owned authentic pictures never failed to compliment my skill and acumen; those on the other end of the stick thought I was ignorant. But one of the unforeseen pleasures of the art authentication business was that I was now in a position to give something back to the art world. I decided to offer our services to university art museums on a pro bono basis. Recently, we were asked by Oxford University to examine a small Keith Haring sketch that was given to them — and it happily turned out to be genuine.
Richard Polsky has accumulated forty years of expertise in the contemporary art world as a gallery owner, author of multiple books on the art market, lecturer, and provider of litigation support. Richard Polsky Art Authentication can be viewed at www.RichardPolskyart.com.