The Authentication Committee of the estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat will disband in September, according to a Jan. 7 message on the estate’s web site:
“The Authentication Committee has been in existence for eighteen years and has reviewed over 2,000 works of art. It believes that it has fulfilled its goal of providing the public with an opportunity to obtain an opinion as to the authenticity of works purportedly created by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The Committee wishes to take this opportunity to thank all the people who worked on its behalf.”
The news broke this morning via The Baer Faxt, an art world newsletter. After September, the committee will no longer accept applications for approval. Word of the disbanding comes amid several major forgery scandals that have entangled a number of art authentication boards in messy litigation–most notably the dispute between the now-defunct Knoedler & Company gallery and the Dedalus Foundation, which handles the estate of Robert Motherwell. In 2011, it was also announced that the Warhol Foundation authentication board would dissolve.
“All these foundations, they just don’t want to be responsible for when someone brings in a painting and it’s not authentic,” said Alberto Mugrabi, who by his own admission owns “many Basquiats.” “Someone has a fake painting, and they put it in front of the board, and then they get upset.”
Mr. Mugrabi said the decision will not affect the market for Basquiat. “It’s so clear when it’s real and when it’s not,” he said. “All the paintings that are real have the right provenance and the right literature.”
The news itself broke quietly. Annina Nosei, who worked closely with the committee and was Basquiat’s first dealer, had not heard of the disbanding until Gallerist called her on the phone and told her.
“We authenticated–and sometimes did not–an enormous amount of work,” she said. “I guess Gerard Basquiat [the artist’s father and head of the estate] decided that he had it. I guess. I haven’t talked to him.”
Calls to the estate were not returned as of this posting. Ms. Nosei added that the committee did “extraordinary” work.
Basquiat did not make nearly as many paintings as Warhol, and there is good documentation of many of them. Still, his work has not been without controversy. A 2007 court case involving collector Guido Orsi, the dealer Tony Shafrazi and Christie’s claimed the auction house knowingly sold Mr. Shafrazi a fake Basquiat, which was subsequently purchased by Mr. Orsi (he discovered it was a forgery in 2006). The case was dismissed last November.
Sources said, however, authentication is made easier by the catalogue of Basquiat’s work compiled by the dealer Enrico Navarra, which is a nearly complete record of Basquiat’s career.
“If there is a painting that isn’t in the Navarra catalogue, or a Basquiat that has never been shown, that could be dodgy,” said Christophe Van de Weghe, a dealer who has sold a number of Basquiats out of his Upper East Side gallery. “It would still be very easy to contact the people who showed a painting originally. The Navarra catalogue is very good. It’s not complete,” he said, “but it’s almost complete.”