Richard Polsky writes:

The ramifications from last May’s sale at Sotheby’s of a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting, for $110 million, continue to reverberate. It made the buyer, Yusaku Maezawa, an art world household name. It led to the current “One Basquiat” exhibition, of the now-iconic canvas, at the Brooklyn Museum. It also provoked a multitude of Basquiat owners into believing their paintings were worth far more than they actually were. And, finally, the sale unleashed a slew of fake Basquiats onto the market.

It reminds me of what occurred back in 1990, when the famous Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, known as “Sue,” was discovered. Those who remember the story will recall how the most complete and best-preserved specimen of its type was found on the South Dakota ranch of Maurice Williams. After the dinosaur was unearthed, Williams unwittingly sold it for $5,000. But because he was a Native American, whose land was held in a government trust, he was able to take the buyer to court and have the deal rescinded. Once Williams got his mega-fossil back, he ultimately consigned it to Sotheby’s, who sold it to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago for $8.3 million.

After the sale went down, I spoke to Henry Galiano, a well-regarded paleontologist and fossil dealer. As he put it, “You wouldn’t believe all the calls I’m getting from ranchers claiming they have dinosaur bones on their property. Usually, they turn out to be cow bones. People think all you have to do is find a skeleton, hitch a chain to it and yank it out of the ground, and you have a million dollars! They’re all a bunch of ‘dinosaur dreamers.”

The equivalent is currently happening in the art market; a plethora of “Basquiat dreamers” have emerged. Since last May’s sale of one of the artist’s two greatest “Skull” pictures (the other is at The Broad), facsimiles of Basquiats continue to show up in our email. They’re sent by owners seeking guidance on whether they’re genuine. Sometimes, these digital images are outright laughable. More often than not, they bear a passing resemblance to a real Basquiat, but fail to capture the distinct personality of the painter. What all of these works have in common is they always include a depiction of a gold crown. It’s as if the creator seized upon the painter’s well-known icon and assumed by placing it somewhere within the composition, an alchemical process would occur and — voila! — you’d have a genuine Basquiat.

Just as a forger includes a crown, a seller often includes a story about how the work was acquired directly from Basquiat. Hoping to bring street cred to his pitch, he often refers to it as a cash-and-carry deal, so Basquiat could buy drugs — hence there was no paperwork. The potential buyer often nods his head, wanting to believe what he’s just heard, because he too knows Basquiat had a heroin problem. It makes him feel like an insider. After all, this is the art market, where one has to be an insider to get the good deals.

Regardless of all the scams out there, it’s important to point out that genuine Basquiats do emerge from time to time. Last year, through the organization POBA, we were asked to authenticate a large drawing which belonged to someone from Basquiat’s inner circle. Everything checked out and another important drawing took its place within Basquiat’s canon. It’s also worth mentioning that there are numerous authentic Basquiats which were never officially authenticated by the Basquiat estate. Many of these are documented in books and gallery exhibition catalogs. But a surprising number are not illustrated anywhere — yet are right as rain.

Inevitably, all of the hype surrounding the $110 Million Basquiat will dissipate. Assuming the art market continues on its upward trajectory, eventually another major Basquiat painting will break the record held by Mr. Maezawa. But until that happens, we will remain in a period where a steady flow of fake Basquiats keep popping up like varmints in a game of Whack-a-Mole. And just like the plastic moles, which aren’t real, most of these paintings won’t be real either.


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.

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.

Richard Polsky writes:

Catalogue rasionnes, which are compendiums of an artist’s entire body of work, are always insightful. The official Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne is one of the best; an amalgam of impressive research and good design. And it’s still ongoing, with more volumes to come in future years. But just like every famous artist’s catalogue raisonne, from Picasso to Pollock, it’s not complete. There are always discoveries of long-lost paintings that never made it in, paintings listed as authentic which turned out to be bogus, and re-evaluations of paintings based on fresh information that comes to light.

As art authenticators who specialize in the work of Andy Warhol (along with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring), the majority of paintings that we are asked to examine turn out to be fakes. But every now and then, we come across a picture where all of the stars align; image, materials, and provenance. Or in some cases, paintings where the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board had a different interpretation of the artist’s intent. Regardless, we decided to compile the Warhols that we’ve authenticated in an online catalogue raisonne addendum, which will be ongoing as we come across more genuine paintings, and available for free on our website. The catalog will be known as the RPAA Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne Addendum.

We want to make it clear to our audience that the Addendum has no connection with the official Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne. We seek to retain our independence. Our objective is to present the art world with a more complete list of genuine Andy Warhol paintings, which will hopefully lead to a greater understanding of his work. The Addendum should prove beneficial to collectors, dealers, auction houses, and scholars.

Perhaps the most important thing that might come of posting the Addendum is that it will help define — once and for all — what constitutes an authentic Andy Warhol painting. For too long, both the academic world and the art market have debated its definition. Our position is simple; it comes down to the artist’s intent.


Richard Polsky has accumulated 40 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.

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.

In recent news, it was reported by ArtNews that art dealer and author (I Bought Andy Warhol; I Sold Andy Warhol (Too Soon)) Richard Polsky, based in the San Francisco Bay area, launched Polsky’s Andy Warhol Art Authentication Service.  According to a press release, Polsky’s new art authentication service is “devoted solely to authenticating the work of Andy Warhol.”

As set forth on Polsky’s website, his evaluation requires the submission of a $2,500 fee in which his “decision is ultimately based on thirty-plus years of involvement with Warhol’s art.”  As for his qualifications, Polsky explains “[i]f you have spent your entire career immersed in an artist’s work, you develop a sixth sense about what is authentic and what is not.”

With the dissolution of the Warhol Foundation’s Art Authentication Board in early 2012, which was reportedly motivated in part by the Board’s desire to avoid lawsuits from art collectors who were dissatisfied with its judgments, Polsky observed that there was a real gap in the art market for the authentication of Warhol’s thousands of works and hence opened Polsky’s Andy Warhol Art Authentication Service.  As authenticity is at the core of purchasing a work of art, Polsky believed that it was important that someone qualified come forward to authenticate the work of Warhol.

For further information on Polsky’s Andy Warhol Art Authentication Service, click here.