Agnes Martin Authentication Lawsuit Shows Systemic Problem

Just as the Agnes Martin retrospective is opening at New York’s Guggenheim museum, lawyer Nicholas O’Donnell brings news of a lawsuit brought by the Mayor Gallery against the Agnes Martin Foundation for failing to provide sufficient explanation for excluding some works submitted by Mayor clients to the catalogue raisonnée and Authentication Committee:

According to the Complaint, the Mayor Gallery sold certain paintings to individual collectors in the belief (and representing) that the works were by Agnes Martin.  The prices for the works ranged from $2.9 million for Day & Night in 2010, to $240,000 for an Untitled work in 2009, to $180,000 for The Invisible in 2012, among many others.

Here, the Complaint alleges that the various Agnes Martin works were submitted for authentication pursuant to the Authentication Committee’s Examination Agreement.  In each work at issue, the Committee apparently rejected the idea that the works were authentic.  The plaintiff argues that such rejection was reached with an inadequate level of interest or responsiveness to the owners’ inquiries.

O’Donnell’s opinion that the suit is unlikely to succeed seems sound. (And you should click through to read it in its entirety. Indeed, O’Donnell shows how a lawsuit is unlikely to prevail as a remedy for anyone seeking a cure for an artist’s foundation’s negligence.
But given that so many artists’ foundations have been established in recent years with little in the way of professional standards, it is not hard sympathize with the frustration of a gallery owner or collector who faces what may be an opaque or arbitrary authentication process.
O’Donnell mentions a law that has been proposed in New York State to shield experts from lawsuits in authentication cases but there’s no current plan or proposal to regulate the behavior of artists’ estates.