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Agnes Martin paintings at center of wave of disputes over provenance | The Latest Online

Agnes Martin paintings at center of wave of disputes over provenance

A work by the artist, whose retrospective is showing at the Guggenheim, is the latest to be questioned as arguments over authentication hit the art market

The approach of the fall art sales brings with it almost unprecedented disputes over provenance. From Frans Hals to Ross Bleckner, Mark Rothko to Agnes Martin, the sheer number of authentication disputes heading to court is placing pressure on the art world to reform its standards for certifying work.

Last week, the prestigious London Cork St gallery head James Mayor sued the directors of the foundation that represents the estate of the Taos, New Mexico-based abstract painter Agnes Martin.

The dispute pits Mayor against one of New Yorks top dealers, Pace Gallerys Arne Glimcher, who represents Martins estate and also heads the authentication committee that decides what is included in the artists catalogue raisonne the catalogue that includes all of the artists known work.

Mayor claims the foundation failed to provide sufficient explanation for excluding some works submitted by Mayor clients.

Theyre not saying these are fakes, theyre saying, Were not 100% convinced, says the art authenticator Richard Polsky. Still, the Martin estates refusal to include the works is tantamount to declaring them fake.

The question of authentication, Polsky believes, is becoming a profound problem for the art world. Art has become such a commodity, and theres so much money at stake, that [if] a painting that belongs to you or as a dealer you may have sold is declared essentially worthless, youll do anything to turn the decision around.

The timing of the latest dispute to hit the headlines is significant. A major retrospective of Martins work recently opened at the Guggenheim in New York and the value of her work has soared in recent years.

According to the Mayor Gallerys complaint, it sold certain paintings to individual collectors in the belief (and representing) that the works were by the artist. The prices for the works ranged from $2.9m, for Day & Night in 2010, to $240,000 for an untitled work in 2009, among many others.

In this courtroom sketch, Domenico De Sole, a chairman of the board at Sothebys, gestures towards his fake Mark Rothko painting, at a civil trial in New York at Manhattan federal court. Photograph: Elizabeth Williams/AP

The gallery subsequently submitted the work for authentication pursuant to the authentication committees examination agreement. In each case, the committee apparently rejected works. Mayor claims the decisions were reached with an inadequate level of interest or responsiveness.

The dispute comes on the heels of several recent clashes. Earlier this month, it was revealed that Sothebys auction house sold Frans Halss Portrait of Man for $10m in 2011, a work which rival Christies had passed on because its experts were not satisfied with the provenance and attribution. The painting has since been declared a fake and a refund issued to the buyer.

In September, the actor Alec Baldwin sued New York dealer Mary Boone after he was sold a Ross Bleckner painting, Sea and Mirror, under the impression, he claims, it was a work he had first seen and admired in 1996. Baldwin said something about the $190,000 work made him uneasy. Besides, it smelled new and the actor says that in fact, the painting was a version made in 2010. The dispute is now headed to court.

Earlier in the year, in an epic case, the former Gucci CEO Domenico de Soles sued the world-famous but now defunct Knoedler Gallery, for selling him a fake Mark Rothko painting for $8.3m. That was settled out of court after it became clear that Knoedler had been selling dozens of abstract expressionist masters created by a Chinese artist in the New York borough of Queens.

In that case, several experts had authenticated the painting, despite the fact that in something of a giveaway, the Knoedler Gallery director, Anne Kennedy, had hung a Jackson Pollock in her office that was not only signed on the front (something the artist never did) but also had the artists name spelled Pollok.

An expert called to testify at the trial explained that without provenance, authenticating art would be a little like watching Elvis Presley against several Presley imitators one intuitively knows which is real and which is fake.

But the problems posed by authentication are only likely to get worse, warns Polsky. Over the past several years, estate boards that once authenticated works by Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and the pop master Roy Liechtenstein have shut up shop.

The move came after the Warhol Foundation spent a reputed $7m defending its decision to deny the authenticity of a self-portrait owned by the UK collector Joe Simon. Not only did the Warhol Foundation refuse to authenticate the work, but it stamped denied on the back, rendering the painting considered by others to be genuine virtually worthless.

But with the approach of the November sales, new questions of authenticity are unlikely to bring to cheer to an art market that has already seen sales volume decline since peaking in 2014.

Part of the problem, Polsky believes, is a lack of industry standards. Every authentication board is different and every catalogue raisonne is different. People may not like it if you turn something down, but if at least if youre open and honest with people about why, they probably wont sue you or feel that youve been treated unfairly.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/oct/31/agnes-martin-painting-provenance-art-world-market

Author: The Latest Online

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