In recent art world news, British artist Paul Stephenson has recreated some of Andy Warhol’s most celebrated works using the exact same materials and methods as the late artist. This has sparked a lively debate as to what can be done after an artist’s death.
Warhol’s legendary New York City studio, The Factory, was fittingly named as it functioned as an assembly line of assistants who worked on his iconic screen print paintings of famous folks. Occasionally, Warhol’s assistant and his mother would sign the paintings on his behalf.
Back in the early 1960s, Warhol had famously told an interviewer “I think somebody should be able to do all my paintings for me.” “I think it would be so great if more people took up silk screens so that no one would know whether my picture was mine or somebody else’s.” Nearly 55 years later, Stephenson has created new versions of Warhol’s works by “posthumously tracking down the pop artist’s original acetates, paints and printer, and recreating the entire process as precisely as possible.”
Stephenson started his project with the purchase of ten original Warhol acetates, which are the enlarged photographic negatives of the icons used by Warhol to create his screen prints. Although Warhol’s assistants did much of the physical work, Warhol was the sole individual who worked directly with the acetates by touching up portions of the portraits in preparation for printing.
The British artist used one of Warhol’s original screen printers in New York, Alexander Heinrici, who offered to help use the original Warhol acetates to make the new paintings.
Of his recreated Warhol works, Stephenson said “I’m not saying they’re Warhols.” “It’s a forced collaboration because the original author doesn’t know anything about it.”
While the artist himself does not claim that the recreated paintings should be considered posthumous Warhol works, one of the leading Warhol authorities and the earliest to catalogue the late artist’s work, Rainer Crone, said before his passing in 2016 that they could be. After seeing Stephenson’s recreated Warhol works, Crone sent the British artist an e-mail that said “paintings made with these film positives under described circumstances and executed posthumously by professionals (scholars as well as printers) are authentic Andy Warhol paintings.”
Stephenson succinctly framed the issue as “[i]f the world-leading Warhol scholar say it’s a Warhol, and you do everything in the mechanical process that the original artist did, and the original artist said ‘I want other people to make my paintings’, which he did – what is it?” Stephenson said that he does not know the answer.
Other examples of works being made in an artist’s name after their death include the estates of Degas and Rodin, which both made bronze sculptures using the artists’ original designs. The sculptures are sold as posthumous works with lower prices.
Stephenson’s recreated Warhols are modestly priced at £4,000 ($5,260) and £10,000 ($13,150), which seem to suggest that he is not expecting prospective buyers to believe such works are authentic Warhols.
Warhol expert Richard Polsky, who provides an authentication service for Warhol works and other artists’ works and has previously written for the Art Law blog, believes that the recreated Warhols should not be regarded as posthumous Warhols. Polsky says “[i]t sounds like he’s trying to extend Warhol’s career, so to speak, even though he’s dead.”
Jessica Beck, curator of the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, believes that it is “problematic” taking Warhol’s screens and recreating new Warhols without being in dialogue with the late artist. Beck explains that Warhol was “always involved in [the] final product in some way” as he oversaw everything at his studio and became involved in other ways after inception.
All this said, the recreated Warhol works will likely be attractive to those who want to appear to have an original Warhol displayed on their wall without having to spend a hefty eight to nine figures to get one.
Stephenson’s recreated paintings will be on display at the Buy Art Fair in Manchester, England later this month.