Mr. Simon-Whelan claims in his suit that the foundation and the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board have colluded in a “deeply corrupt enterprise” to drive up the value of the works the foundation owns by denying the authenticity of numerous works that purport to be Warhols.
The suit, filed on Friday in Federal District Court in Manhattan, says the main purpose of the “Warhol conspiracy” is to reject “as many works as possible so as to induce artificial scarcity in the market for Warhol works, thereby maintaining and increasing the value of the foundation’s own substantial holdings.”
Mr. Simon-Whelan’s suit revolves around a relatively little-known self-portrait that Warhol is said to have given to the publisher Richard Ekstract in 1964 in exchange for some video equipment. The silk-screen on synthetic polymer paint and canvas was untitled at the time of its creation, though Mr. Simon-Whelan, who lives in London, has, for the purpose of his lawsuit, given it the name of “Double Denied,” a reference to the fact that its authentication as a veritable Warhol was twice rejected by the board.
After it passed through the hands of numerous galleries and owners, Mr. Simon-Whelan bought the 24-by-20-inch piece from an art dealer, Michael Hue-Williams, for $195,000 in 1989. According to the lawsuit, it was authenticated years before by Mr. Fremont, the Warhol sales agent, and Fred Hughes, the estate’s executor, who went so far as to write on its lower left-hand edge, “I certify that this is an original painting by Andy Warhol completed by him in 1964.”
When Mr. Simon-Whelan moved to sell the painting for $2 million in July 2001 (the Postal Service had just issued a stamp of the piece, which he assumed would increase its value), the authentication board announced its doubts and stamped the work “denied.”
He submitted it again in 2003 and was again refused, even though he had, in the meantime, obtained a letter from Paul Morrissey, a filmmaker and friend of Andy Warhol, supporting its authentication; a letter from Billy Name, the chief photographer at the Factory, Warhol’s original New York City studio; and a transcript from the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh of Warhol himself reminiscing on the creation of the piece.
At first, the board refused to tell Mr. Simon-Whelan why it had rejected his piece and, according to the lawsuit, only explained a year later when it sent him a letter referring to certain background features being printed, not hand-painted, and to telltale flaws in the “density of the halftone.” Adding artistic injury to insult, the “denied” stamp bled through the back of the canvas, the lawsuit says, and was visible from the front.
The lawsuit accuses the foundation of restraint of trade and of trying to monopolize the Warhol market “in New York, the United States and Europe,” and seeks at least $20 million in damages.