The Andy Warhol Foundation Frees Up Much-Needed Funds

When Andy Warhol willed nearly his entire estate to create a foundation to advocate for artists' creative freedoms to fight the good fight for their right to free expression and the overall "advancement of the visual arts," he surely did not mean that his foundation should dole out millions of dollars authenticating his own works. For nearly two decades, though, that's exactly what happened.

Warhol died in 1987 and, at his bequest, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (See Andy Warhol Foundation: Grants for Writing, Fine Arts) was founded. If Warhol's career was successful while he was living, it was astronomically so after his death, with Eight Elvises selling for $100 million in 2008. With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line for both private collectors and museums, a group of experts whose sole purpose was to authenticate Warhol's works of art seemed appropriate. It turns out, not surprisingly, when collectors discover that they have shelled out hundreds of thousands and even millions for what they thought was an authentic Warhol, they get really angry at the experts who told them they were duped.

Yet in early 2012, The Andy Warhol Art Authentication board called it quits. Not because it was no longer necessary to authenticate the existing Warhol works floating around in the world, but because it was costing the foundation way too much money — money the board believes is better spent on supporting the arts (Read senior program officer James Bewley's IP profile).

The Warhol Foundation awards around $13 million in grants annually and spends nearly the same amount on its authentication efforts. All told, the foundation spent an average of $500,000 per year for, presumably, operation costs, and $8 million in the past five years defending itself in a number of lawsuits. That's in addition to $7 million it spent on a single lawsuit brought against the authentication board by filmmaker Joe Simon. That’s a lot of money going into legal defense coffers rather than art.

Now that the board has disbanded, that's a lot more money going toward Warhol's cause, instead of in the posthumous defense of his artwork.