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Artist John Chamberlain can be sued over disputed Warhol, says Judge

Former Factory assistant claims he made the disputed work

A state court judge in Brooklyn has ruled that a lawsuit against artist John Chamberlain may proceed. The case turns on the authenticity of a work, 315 Johns, which Chamberlain believes to be by Andy Warhol.

On 13 August, Justice Martin Schneier ruled that the lawsuit by Warhol’s former chief silkscreen painting assistant, Gerard Malanga, could not be adjudicated without a trial.

Malanga, an artist, poet and film-maker, says he made the disputed work after leaving Warhol’s employ. He alleges that he produced the 315 eight-inch square canvases of Chamberlain’s face in 1971, and that decades later Chamberlain, to whose residence the art was allegedly moved for storage, assembled the canvases into one work and sold it as a Warhol.

Chamberlain led the Warhol Authentication Board to conclude that the works were by Warhol “by supplying it with false information”, Malanga says.

According to Malanga, he made the silkscreen canvas portraits working in Massachusetts with two artists, Jim Jacobs and the late Irene Harris. “We created the canvases in the style of Warhol, but we never intended them to be used, displayed or sold as Warhols,” and Warhol had no knowledge of them, Malanga alleges.

Chamberlain, who is known for his welded sculptures including crushed automobile parts, says the works were made by Warhol, from whom he says he obtained them in an art trade. After a member of the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board inspected the art at Chamberlain’s studio, he assembled the canvases into 315 Johns, he says, adding that it is “not unusual” that a work of Warhol’s “would not be completely assembled by Andy”. The Board determined that the work was Warhol’s in June 2000.

Chamberlain argued that the decision of the Warhol Board was conclusive evidence that 315 Johns was an authentic Warhol. But Justice Schneier disagreed, saying that the decision of the Warhol Board “is not binding on this court”, and that based on Malanga’s complaint, “whatever persuasive authority the Review Board’s decision might ordinarily confer is undercut by the fact that it was made without consideration of [Malanga’s] allegations”.

In court filings, Malanga says that in 2004, Chamberlain told him in substance that he had sold “those portraits that you made of me” for $5m.

Chamberlain sought judgment without a trial on the grounds that he had sold the art and could not return it. But the judge said he had only supplied affidavits which supported the fact that he had sold a Warhol, “not 315 Johns, specifically”.

In an affidavit in the lawsuit, Chamberlain’s ex-wife Lorraine states that her husband “told me in effect” that the canvases “were fake Warhols that had been created by Gerard Malanga and Jim Jacobs”.

Malanga is represented by Peter R. Stern. Chamberlain is represented by Minerva & D’Agostino.

o Immendorff: copies, fakes, or authorised reproductions? p49