Andy Warhol’s was one of the most prolific artists of all time. His unique art represented a major shift in the direction of modernism. Pop Art was becoming a national phenomenon and Warhol was taking it to a new level. His career as a commercial artist paralleled with the post-WWII manufacturing and media boom; and while this was an exciting time of growth in the United States, he was often criticized for endorsing the capitalist market.
Andy Warhol is now one of the most coveted pop artist of all times and his art is widely recognized around the world. Authenticating his art, however, can often be more complicated than other artists for a number of reasons.
"Buying is more American than thinking, and I'm as American as they come." Andy Warhol
One of the main reasons Warhol authentication can be difficult is simply the commonness of his subjects. Warhol began his career in advertising and much of his talent carried over into his art work. With Pop Art barely emerging,, Warhol captured an entire era of growth in American commercialism, artistically. Many of his most famous pieces were items that can easily be found at the supermarket like dollar bills, Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles.
Warhol learned the screen-printing process as a commercial artist and began experimenting with different techniques in his own artwork. Since screenprinting was not a widely used medium in the art world, Warhol became a pioneer of the difficult technique using confidential “trade secrets” he had learned in advertising. He was harshly criticized by the art community, as many artists believed the use of machines disqualified his work as being art.
Warhol’s first published screen printing series was of Marilyn Monroe, the mesmerizing beauty who had recently committed suicide. He created multiple versions of the same picture, using different colors for each image. This systematic manner of production was also harshly criticized by the art community as looking mass-produced and without depth.
“Isn’t life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?” Andy Warhol
Warhol also had a great affection for celebrities and produced many paintings and portraits of famous stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger, Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor. Due to the notoriety of these iconic stars, many of his works were reproduced on posters and other memorabilia items. As these items were purchased and handed down, it became hard to distinguish an original Warhol among the reproductions.
"I just paint things I always thought were beautiful" Andy Warhol
Art appraiser Kathleen Guzman, from the Antiques Roadshow, was once shown a napkin with three butterflies doodled on it, that the guest believed Warhol had drawn and signed. She told the owner that unless it had been authenticated by the Andy Warhol Authentication Board, the piece simply didn’t exist. After the napkin was authenticated by the Board, the value of the napkin went from worthless to $30,000.
Warhol’s signature is known to have many distinctive identifying elements. At the same time, his signature switched back and forth from cursive to print depending on when and where he was at the time. In later years he would often sign his artwork using just his initials or a stamp. Since screenprint tends to fade over the years, art experts have learned to distinguish Warhol’s signature by studying the evanescence of the ink.
As minor as many of the details may seem; Warhol’s signature, the paper he used, the type of ink and saturation of the color, can make a million dollar difference in the value of his art. Warhol made over 10,000 paintings in his lifetime, not counting the thousands of prints, drawings, photographs and sculptures he also created. Since the discontinuation of the Warhol Authentication Board, the authenticity of an original Warhol has become an international debate. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed on behalf of disgruntled buyers who believed they had purchased authenticated Warhol pieces -- and were later told they were reproductions.
Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has embarked on a mission to publish a catalogue raisonné, aiming to list all genuine Warhols. This mission is a work in progress and will inevitably remain so as Warhol created over 10,000 paintings in his life, plus thousands more prints, drawings, photographs and sculptures.
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