authenticity & provenance

My step grandfather was an attorney who assisted European Jews seek and frequently gain reparations from the German government after World War II. Most of his clients were formerly wealthy families that were rendered penniless during and after the war. More than a few clients were unable to pay my grandfather with currency but gave him artworks instead.

I grew up and summered in houses filled with works by Picasso, Renoir, Degas, Calder, Giacometti, Duchamp, and Beatrice Wood. (Beatrice Wood and Krishnamurti were our neighbors in Ojai.) At a very early age, I became aware of authenticity and provenance when it was explained to me that the Manet next to my bed was given to my grandfather because the former owner believed it had been painted by an assistant of Manet, and as much as I enjoyed gazing up at it, it was considered worthless.

This idea stayed with me and has given me an interesting perspective from which to begin assessing the muti-layered value of art. In the early 1980’s, my then stepmother, a respected ceramicist in her own right, introduced me to polaroid photography and silkscreen printing. It was during this time that I became aware of Andy Warhol’s creative process and immediately mentioned the ease of which anyone could reproduce his works and questioned then how authenticity and provenance could be established or argued. It was precisely for this reason alone my father dismissed all of Warhol’s work as “garbage.”

Needless to say, I rarely agreed with my father on matters of aesthetics and taste. Indeed however in the years since I emigrated from the United States, the very concerns I raised 32 years ago regarding Warhol’s working methods and authenticity have been at the very heart of an ongoing controversy among dealers and collectors of Warhols.

I have attached a link to a page, which outlines this issue, on the website of the Institute of Museum Ethics.

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