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Addendum: Richard Dorment and the New York Review of Books

Richard Dorment
1. What Happened? | 2. Bruno B. | 3. Why? | 4. Transcripts and Forgeries | 5. Addendum: Richard Dorment and the New York Review of Books
6. Addendum #2: Response to Richard Dorment

 

The New York Review of Books published a letter from Reva Wolf in their June 9, 2011 issue in which she defended her expert opinion regarding the Norgus Self-Portraits. A response by Richard Dorment followed her letter. There were several inaccuracies in Dorment's response which I correct below:

1. Warhol never produced a series of "Red Self-Portraits" in 1964 (or any other year).

Richard Dorment refers to the Norgus Self-Portraits as the "Red Self-Portraits," writing in section two of his response to Wolf's letter that "the seven technical differences between Andy Warhol's 1964 and 1965 series of Red Self-Portraits listed by Dr. Wolf are fully acknowledged by both sides in this dispute." But Warhol did not do a series of Red Self-Portraits in 1964, as Dorment suggests.

In 1964 Warhol did a series of self-portraits with different coloured backgrounds (three of which had red backgrounds) but there was no "Red Self-Portrait series" in '64 or any other year. Most of the paintings in the 1964 series did not have a red background. (Shouldn't the chief art critic of The Daily Telegraph know this?) By referring to Warhol's 1964 Self-Portraits as the "Red Self-Portraits" and then also calling the Norgus Self-Portraits the "Red Self-Portraits" Dorment confuses the reader into thinking that the 1965 Norgus Self-Portraits were as legitimate as Warhol's authentic 1964 series of self-portraits.

2. The person who made the screens for the Norgus Self-Portraits, Gus Hunkele, did not have any contact with Andy Warhol.

Gus Hunkele (Norgus Silk Screen Co. Inc.):

"Ekstract related Warhol's instructions and intent to our foreman concerning the production of the silk screened self portrait we followed these instructions. I did not meet Andy Warhol or Richard Ekstract personally but my business partner met Ekstract." (Statement dated January 12, 2004)

Richard Dorment gives the incorrect impression that Gus Hunkele was following instructions directly provided by Warhol. It is clear from Hunkele's statement that the the instructions came from Richard Ekstract who told Hunkele that they were Warhol's instructions. In his statement Hunkele also says "I have no knowledge of any of these works were made to be used as a cover for a magazine or as promotional materials for an underground party."

3. Paul Morrissey and Sam Green

Richard Dorment writes, "Dr. Wolf’s expert witness statement does not report the eyewitness testimony of two people at the very heart of the case, Paul Morrissey and Sam Green." As noted in the main body of this essay, Joe Simon-Whelan previously characterized Morrissey's testimony as "full of holes."
(http://www.warholstars.org/warhol_self_portrait_3.htm#jhx3w)

Richard Dorment attempts to legitimise his claims about the Norgus Self-Portraits by mentioning a statement from Joe Simon-Whelan's friend, Sam Green. Green was a colourful character on the art scene who curated Warhol's 1965 retrospective at the ICA in Philadelphia. Dorment notes that "Sam Green was not just 'a' curator - he was the curator of the first retrospective of Warhol's work." In an email to me dated March 30, 2011, Richard Dorment denigrated that retrospective as relatively unimportant, writing "Yes, he [Warhol] was `mobbed by the public’ in Philadelphia, but in this case the `public’ consisted of the relatively small number of people who followed developments in avant garde painting." (The "relatively small number of people" who mobbed Warhol at the ICA was large enough to force the artist to escape through a hole in the ceiling.)

Sam Green says the following in his statement:

"Regarding parties - the Simon portrait and some others from the same series (or group) were featured at a party that I recall was somewhere near the private railroad terminal under the Waldorf Towers. The party was some kind of promotion for a camera manufacturer (Kodak?) who was lending Andy equipment. I felt Andy was being exploited not to his advantage, because he was trading self-portraits and promotion in exchange, when just the latter contribution would have been enough. The Simon portrait, was, I believe one of the trades. In any case, the painting is familiar to and known by me."

But how would Green have known in 1965 that Warhol was allegedly trading "self-portraits and promotion" in exchange for a party? Warhol never mentioned the series in his lifetime. Green "believes" the Simon portrait was "one of the trades." But how could he tell? The Norgus Self-Portraits were mechanically reproduced and identical to each other - like posters. How could Green have differentiated "the Simon portrait" from any of the others - particularly given that Joe Simon-Whelan did not purchase his work until more than two decades after the party? Is Green repeating something he actually remembers or something he was told years later when he was asked to write his letter by Simon-Whelan? Numerous photographs were taken at the party and none show any self-portraits on display at the party.

4. Herman Meyers refers to the Norgus Self-Portraits as "reproductions."

Richard Dorment dramatically announces that he is publishing "for the first time" a statement by Richard Ekstract's friend Herman Meyers. Does Dorment think that the readers of the New York Review of Books do not have access to the internet? Meyers' statement has been online for several years now. The URL is on page one of this essay. It's interesting to note that in his statement Meyers refers to the Norgus Self Portraits as "reproductions," writing "At the time, the recommended canvas supplier had only cotton canvas in stock for the reproductions - so we used that."

Richard Dorment quotes Meyers as saying that the Norgus Self Portraits were produced "under Andy Warhol's strict direction." Previously Dorment lauded the Norgus Self Portraits as ground-breaking because they were produced without the personal intervention of the artist. He can't have it both ways. Were the works produced "under Andy Warhol's strict direction" or were they produced without the personal intervention of the artist?

If Warhol gave directions to the printer by telephone as Meyers suggests, how did Meyers know that? Did he witness Andy Warhol talking to the printer on the phone? Was he that close to Warhol? He's not mentioned in any of the biographies - and neither are the Norgus Self-Portraits. Mr. Meyers owned one of the questionable self-portraits but says in his statement that he sold it shortly after receiving it although he cannot remember the name of the person he sold it to and would not be able to find that person today. If he can't remember to whom he sold what he believed was a work by Andy Warhol, how dependable can his memory be in regard to the events surrounding the work?

I have dealt with Meyers' statement in more detail in the main body of this essay. Type Herman Meyers in the search box at the top of this page and the pages should come up.

5. The Norgus Self-Portraits cannot "represent a crucial turning point in the way Warhol would make his work" because Warhol did not do the Norgus Self-Portraits.

Richard Dorment proclaims (again, dramatically) that the Norgus Self-Portrait series "represents a crucial turning point in the way Warhol would make his work in the years to come." Later in his essay he explains "With hindsight, Warhol's first use of commercial printers to make the Red Self-Portraits" set a precedent for the way he was to work in the 1970s and 1980s. This is a watered down version of his previous theory that the works were ground-breaking because of Warhol's hands-off approach.

As noted in my essay, Dorment's argument presupposes that the Norgus Self-Portraits were by Warhol and, therefore, his theory cannot be used to prove that the works are authentic. There are no documents in Warhol's archives which relate to the series and Warhol never mentioned it publicly during his lifetime. The people who claim that Warhol did the Norgus series are mostly the people who own works from the series, such as Richard Ekstract.

6. The Cow wallpaper and plexiglas paintings were produced outside the Factory because there were no wallpaper or plexiglas printing facilities at the Factory.

Mr. Dorment gives examples of Warhol's Cow Wallpaper and his works on plexiglas to show that Warhol used companies outside the Factory. But what do they have to do with paintings on canvas? Of course Warhol sent the wallpaper out to be printed. He didn't have wallpaper making facilities at the Factory. Nor did he have the capacity to print on plexiglas.

What techniques were being used by Warhol around the time that the Norgus Self-Portraits were created? Just after the Norgus Self-Portraits were printed, Warhol did his Colored Campbell's Soup Cans, currently on display (through June 11, 2011) at L&M Arts in New York. In his review of the show Ken Johnson writes in the New York Times, "What is remarkable is how different each painting looks."
(Ken Johnson, "Andy Warhol: 'Colored Campbell's Soup Cans,' New York Times, May 19, 2011)

In other words, around the time that Dorment and others allege that Warhol was consciously creating identical works (the Norgus Self-Portraits), the reality is that the artist was producing works that emphasised the differences between paintings even though they were based on the same image. Warhol was was not into making mechanically reproduced identical prints and calling them paintings.

This list of corrections could go on and on (and on). Dorment, for instance, brings up the art dealer Ivan Karp. Karp was interviewed in the BBC documentary Warhol: Denied (2006). In that documentary, Karp recollects that he sold a Warhol painting to a buyer and when the buyer submitted it to the Authentication Board, the painting was denied. The buyer returned the painting to Karp and Karp gave him a refund. Why didn't Joe Simon-Whelan ask his dealer for a refund of the $195,000 he paid for his denied painting from the Norgus series rather than launch a lawsuit against the Andy Warhol Foundation for $20 million?

One thing that nobody has explained is why Gerard Malanga did not issue a statement about whether he was aware of the Norgus Self-Portraits at the time. Malanga was Warhol's only paid art assistant when the Norgus prints were created and was the best placed person to know who borrowed what and under what circumstances. If somebody had borrowed one of Warhol's acetates, Gerard would presumably have known about it. Yet, he has remained silent.

The reality of the situation is that what started out as a discussion of the merits of a painting or group of paintings became a clash of personalities that was often conveyed as a David vs. Goliath struggle with the Foundation cast in the role of Goliath. The principles of the case became obfuscated by the personalities involved. Richard Dorment gave a hint of this when he wrote the following in December 2009:

Richard Dorment ("What is a Warhol: An Exchange," NYRB, December 17, 2009):

"... [Joel] Wachs [from the Andy Warhol Foundation] took the extraordinary step of visiting the offices of The New York Review of Books - not to respond to or dispute a single fact concerning the authenticity of the paintings in question, but to personally deliver material to my editors that he believed would serve to discredit me. Specifically, he accused me of not disclosing an involvement I had in the case.

What this involvement amounts to is that in 2003 I tried to help Joe Simon-Whelan to determine why another work in his collection that he believed to be by Warhol had been turned down by the authentication board without explanation. My intervention mainly took the form of introducing him to my friend the late Bob Rosenblum, who was then a member of the board, with the idea that Bob might be able to tell Simon-Whelan what the problem was. Given the board’s policy of secrecy, Rosenblum was unable to do that directly, but eventually and after some correspondence between us in which I initially misunderstood his hints about what might be wrong with the piece in question, he was able to persuade the lawyer for the board to explain why it had been rejected. Simon-Whelan instantly accepted the reason as valid, and never raised the matter again."

Joel Wachs gave a considerably different version of events:

Joel Wachs (The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts):

"Richard Dorment is not a neutral, unbiased commentator. Quite the contrary, Mr. Dorment’s specious and compromised claims are the product of his long-standing relationship with Joe Simon-Whelan, the sole plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Foundation and the Board. Mr. Dorment was less than candid when he glossed over his prior effort to help Mr. Simon as 'my interest mainly took the form of introducing him to ... Robert Rosenblum.' In fact, Mr. Dorment was an active participant to pressure the Board to authenticate an obviously forged dollar bills collage in Mr. Simon-Whelan’s possession, to the extent that Mr. Rosenblum wrote Mr. Dorment on July 17, 2003 that ' …I’d be grateful if you didn’t write me about the Warhol problem again.' On three separate occasions Mr. Simon-Whelan submitted this collage to the Board, while Mr. Dorment sent emails to Board members advocating that the work should be deemed an authentic Warhol, despite the fact that the collage contained dollar bills that were signed by the US Treasury after Andy Warhol had died. Mr. Dorment’s article is a thinly-veiled attempt to promote Mr. Simon-Whelan’s legal agenda."
(http://www.warholfoundation.org/foundation/23_detail.html?page=2)

Regardless of who one considers to be the "bad guys" and who one thinks are the "good guys" in this saga, the fact remains that Warhol never publicly mentioned the Norgus series in his lifetime and that there are no documents in Warhol's archive which refer to the series. It is true that one of the paintings (the d'Offay "Bruno B" painting) was included in Warhol's 1970 catalogue raisonné but it was wrongly included as part of Warhol's 1964 series. (Dorment, himself, acknowledges that the d'Offay painting "was restretched between 1965 and 1969 so that it would match the size of the 1964 series.") When the d'Offay painting was discovered not to be authentic, it was responsibly removed from future editions of the catalogue raisonné. Dorment uses the current catalogue raisonné as an authoritative source in his NYRB letter despite having criticized it in the past for not including the d'Offay painting or, for that matter, any of the works from the Norgus series - works that Herman Meyers referred to in his statement as "reproductions."

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