NEW YORK (AFP) - A federal district judge in New York has ordered that an art collector be allowed to pursue claims of monopolization and unjust enrichment against a foundation that authenticates works by Andy Warhol.
Joe Simon-Whelan, an American filmmaker living in London who owns a relatively unknown Warhol portrait, sued the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts in 2007, accusing it of dominating the highly profitable market for works by the pop artist.
He claimed that the foundation and the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board collaborated to artificially inflate the price of Warhol paintings and prints owned by the foundation by rejecting the authenticity of other works allegedly by Warhol.
The foundation, the board and Vincent Fremont -- the exclusive sales agent for Warhol's estate -- engaged "in a conspiracy to restrain and monopolize trade in the market for Warhol works," Simon-Whelan said in his complaint.
"It is a major victory, claims are allowed to proceed," Brian Kerr, one of Simon-Whelan's lawyers, told AFP after Judge Laura Swain late Tuesday granted the plaintiff's request to question witnesses.
Simon-Whelan said he would lead the fight in his name and possibly also represent other buyers of Warhol works.
At the center of the case is a self-portrait by the artist whose authentication as a veritable Warhol was twice rejected by the board. Simon-Whelan, who bought the silkscreen print for 195,000 dollars in 1989, says he can prove its authenticity.
According to the plaintiff, several art dealers and Warhol acquaintances certified that the work was an original painting by the "Pope of Pop" before the New York-based authentication board stamped it as denied in 2001 and 2003.
Some top auctions require the board's authentication stamp before accepting to sell works by Warhol.
Credited with single-handedly reviving portrait art, Warhol's first were those of Marilyn Monroe and Liz Taylor, produced from newspaper clippings to his standard format -- 40x40-inch (101.6x101.6-cm) bold-lined head-shot works painted in bright colors.
His use of repetition, both in the portraits and other American icons such as Campbell's soup cans, was social commentary on mass culture and consumption, showing art as a product.