MANHATTAN (CN) - Andy Warhol's estate is behind an "insidious" conspiracy to monopolize the authentication and sale of the late artist's work, according to a complaint in Federal Court. Susan Shaer claims that the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board routinely defaces authentic Warhol artworks with a "DENIED" stamp, thereby creating "artificial scarcity" and inflating the value of the art owned by the foundation.
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board were created after the 1987 death of Warhol, "one of the most prolific and innovative artists of the 20th century," according to the complaint.
Shaer claims a conflict of interest exists because the foundation employs authentication board members and owns $500 million worth of Warhol artwork.
By falsely declaring certain works as inauthentic, the board can "systematically exclude Warhol from the marketplace," Shaer says in her 43-page complaint.
Shaer says that without the board's intervention, independent sales would compete with the foundation's holdings in auctions and private sales.
Shaer says board members feel "free to abuse the authentication process in pursuit of their naked self interest."
The board's stamp of approval is necessary for anyone in the world to sell a Warhol work, which allows it to wield "disproportionate power over the Warhol market," according to the complaint.
Shaer says the board forces those who own Warhols to sign non-negotiable agreements that contain a "sweeping indemnity clause" before they submit the works for authentication.
The agreements allegedly give the board complete discretion to reverse its opinion at any time for no apparent reason - even after it has defaced a painting with "the board's equivalent of a scarlet letter."
Shaer says the board never explains the reasoning behind its denials, which shields its "determinations from scrutiny and liability."
Board employees are paid large salaries for their complicity in the scheme or turn a blind eye because of their prestigious positions on the high-profile board, according to the complaint.
Shaer claims that sales of Warhol artwork have dominated the multibillion-dollar market for modern and contemporary art.
The average price of a Warhol work at auction was $442,000 in 2006, according to the complaint. Shaer says the works "routinely fetch even more astronomical sums," noting that the 1963 "Green Car Crash," a single Warhol silkscreen, sold for $71.7 million.
Shaer says the Warhol self-portrait she owns is part of a series of 12 identical paintings created in August 1965 and is worth millions. Warhol traded the original series for expensive video equipment that he used to create well-regarded films, including "Outer and Inner Space," according to the complaint.
After the authentication board first claimed in 1990 that it did not have enough information to verify Shaer's work, it invited her to resubmit the painting for another review 14 years later.
Shaer says that the invitation is a ruse to force her to sign the submission agreement so the board can deface the work and remove it from the marketplace.
The board allegedly has requested and rejected other works from the same series. In doing so, Shaer says, the board is reversing Warhol's personal authentication since he chose a painting "substantially identical" to the plaintiff's as the cover image on the first catalogue of his works that he co-published in 1970.
Because Shaer declined the board's invitation, she says her piece has an effective market value of "zero."
The Warhol foundation and board have been "dogged by charges of financial mismanagement" and were investigated by the New York attorney general in the 1990s, according to the complaint.
Shaer says the foundation pays "disproportionately high administrative costs relative to most charities" and has sold more than $150 million in Warhol's artwork at artificially inflated prices.
Vincent Fremont, the executor of Warhol's estate and the exclusive sales agent for Warhol paintings, allegedly has earned more than $10 million from the foundation, not including the millions earned by his organization, Vincent Fremont Enterprises, which also is named as a defendant.
Shaer seeks treble damages and an injunction against Fremont and the Warhol foundation, estate and authentication board, alleging antitrust violations, collusion and fraud. Her lead attorney is Seth Redniss.
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