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Art Authentication: another foundation comes under scrutiny

The Dedalus Foundation was created by Robert Motherwell, and it now owns the copyright to his works and operates to preserve his legacy. Two recent lawsuit have brought the Foundation under scrutiny for its authentication practices.

“Regardless of their legal outcomes, the two cases shed light on the closed world of artist foundations and the largely unregulated authority they have come to command in the world of art authentication and, by extension, the art market.”

Killala Fine Art Ltd. has filed the most recent lawsuit, claiming that the Foundation gave “false assurances” regarding the authenticity of a painting. Killala had purchased the painting from art dealer Julian Weissman, also named as Defendant, on the strength of a letter of authenticity from the Foundation. Two years after the purchase, the Foundation withdrew the letter of authenticity and dropped its plans to include the work in the catalogue raisonné.

Although the authentication process is usually veiled from the public, an earlier suit filed by Joan Banach for wrongful dismissal sheds further light on the matter. Banach alleged that the President made “repeated misjudgments about the authenticity of works attributed to Motherwell,” and had sought to challenge them. Read more about the employment suit at The Art Newspaper.

James Panero, writing for the Wall Street Journal, laments the current state of affairs:

“Despite their considerable influence, artist foundations follow no industry standards, are allowed to operate in complete secrecy, and are accountable to no outside individual or entity beyond the attorney general and the Internal Revenue Service, with only the courts offering glimpses of their operations. Surely it is time that changed.”

Will Killala have a remedy? Will the Foundation have to re-instate the value of the investment by re-authenticating the work? Or will the Foundation or Weissman have a duty to make good the difference in value? This case follows on the heels of Simon-Whelan v The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. et al (2010). In that case, Simon-Whelan alleged further that the deceptive authentication practices of the Foundation violated anti-trust laws. After a 3-year legal battle, that plaintiff lost.

Read about the lawsuit against the Dedalus Foundation at the Wall Street Journal