Friday, April 09, 2010

The undead

This multiple edition thing is all very well, but how careful do you have to be when you buy one? Often the size of editions is vague, particularly with sculpture, and what do you do about zombie editions, the ones made after the artist’s death like Len Lye’s Wind Wand or Water Twirler? It’s all very well the current committee of Leninists (sorry but it's too good to drop) saying that these works are aok, but what happens later when others take over the role of authentication? Artists saying they want stuff made after their death isn’t quite the same as an artist controlling the development and quality of work while alive.

If you want to see the pitfalls of zombie editions you need look no further than Andy Warhol’s Brillo box sculptures. To start with there is the original set of around 98 made for Warhol’s Sable Gallery show in 1964. For his 1968 survey show in Stockholm a version of the Sable Gallery display was recreated using 500 Brillo packing boxes, the original source for the Warhol sculptures. Then, to complicate things further, a further 100 boxes were also created around the time of the exhibition but in hardboard, not plywood. 

But wait, there’s more. 

In 1970 Warhol authorised the construction of yet another 100 Brillo boxes for the retrospective in Pasadena. These ones were made slightly bigger to distinguish them from earlier examples. Now it turns out the 100 boxes thought to have been made for the Stockholm show (because the curator, Pontus Hulten, said they were) were actually made in 1990, three years after Warhol died, and put to market as 1968 originals. Zombie boxes in fact. As some collectors have paid up to $300,000 per box thinking they were purchasing Warhol authorised originals, ripples of discontent can be felt. The catalogue raisonnĂ© of Warhol’s work dates the Stockholm boxes 1968 which makes you wonder about the value of authentication committees that also have an interest in protecting the sales and reputation of an artist.
Image: The Stockholm Brillo boxes recorded and illustrated in the Warhol catalogue raisonné

Sources: Art News, Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne 02A paintings and Sculptures 1964-1969, Andy Warhol by Arthur C. Danto, Forbes, and the NYT.