by Gary Comenas
The New York Review of Books has published yet more statements by Richard Dorment about the Warhol Self-Portraits produced by the Norgus Silk Screen Company in 1965 which have been denied authenticity by the Andy Warhol Art Authentication Board. The statements by Dorment are in two sections - one headed "Warhol Under the Waldorf" (which also includes a statement by Richard Ekstract) and the other titled "How Andy Warhol's Red Self-Portraits Were Made."
1. Why hasn't Richard Dorment asked Gerard Malanga whether he recalls anyone borrowing Warhol's acetates?
Gerard Malanga was Warhol's only paid art assistant at the time. If acetates were borrowed and used to make authorised prints, Malanga would have known about it. Why hasn't Dorment asked Malanga whether he was aware of Warhol's acetates being 'borrowed?'
2. Warhol never did a series of "Red Self-Portraits" as claimed by Richard Dorment.
In his statements, Dorment refers to the 1965 prints as the "Red Self-Portraits" series. As noted in my previous essay, "What Andy Warhol Didn't Do," Warhol never produced a "series" of "Red Self-Portraits," nor has there ever been a "Red Self-Portraits" series included in any of the editions of the catalogue raisonné. One of the 1965 works was included in Rainer Crone's Warhol cat. rais., but it was listed with the 1964 series of Self-Portraits and not as part of a separate 1965 series. In other words, Crone thought that the 1965 print was one of Warhol's legitimate 1964 Self-Portraits. (The Norgus print had been re-stretched to the dimensions of the 1964 series by the time Crone compiled his cat. rais.)
3. Richard Dorment's claims about Warhol's alleged "hands off" approach are contradictory and inaccurate.
In "Warhol Under the Waldorf" Dorment claims that Warhol used a "hands off" approach in regard to the Norgus prints but in "How Andy Warhol's Red Self-Portraits Were Made," he claims that the Norgus prints were done under the specific directions of Andy Warhol.
In the "Waldorf" article, Dorment writes about the Norgus Self-Portraits, "Created at a moment when Warhol was particularly close to Marcel Duchamp, this is the first time Warhol used the 'hands-off' working method that would become routine in the 1970 and 1980s...."
Dorment does not explain what he means by a "hands off" approach. Presumably he is referring to the fact that Warhol allegedly handed over his acetates to a printer he had never used previously and would never use again and then didn't intervene in the actual printing process. If that is the case he contradicts himself when he writes in "How Andy Warhol's Red Self-Portraits Were Made," that the Norgus prints were produced according to "Warhol's written and telephoned instructions."
When Dorment is trying to prove that the Norgus prints are "groundbreaking," he claims Warhol had a hands-off approach to the prints. When he's trying to prove that Warhol actually authorised them, he says the works were printed under his strict direction. He can't have it both ways.
Warhol did not routinely adopt a "hands-off" approach to his work in the 70s, 80s or any other period of his life. Rupert Smith was Warhol's printer from about 1977 onwards. Jean Paul Russell worked for Smith and, in a letter to the Authentication Board dated October 25, 2002, he described the usual procedure for printing Warhol's silk screens:
"Rupert would collect the canvases from the Factory. Before I arrived the screens would be made elsewhere but we started to make the screens in our studio from the film positives. We would have the film developed before Rupert Smith would show the positives to Andy Warhol in his Factory. This part of the process was extremely important to Andy Warhol and which he always took part in. The film positive was integral to the way the image was going to look. Warhol would sometimes say that the image was too light or too dark, or that it may need to be re-shot. He would look for wrinkles or bags under the eyes and want them taken out. He would ask for something else to be corrected or make other suggestions. he would suggest which colors to use and the way he wanted it printed. He always had some sort of direction. It would be the last time that Andy Warhol would see the image until the painting was finished. We would then mix the colors ourselves before we would start the printing. After we printed the paintings the work would dry before being sent to the Factory. The paintings were done to suit his intentions."
Russell specifically states that Smith "would collect the canvases from the Factory" and that after film positives were made they would be shown to Andy Warhol at the Factory. Warhol would then indicate what changes needed to be made. According to Russell, this part of the procedure was "extremely important to Andy Warhol" and "he always took part in" the procedure. This did not happen with the Norgus prints. Rather than having a "hands off" policy during the 70s and 80s as Dorment claims, Russell's description suggests otherwise. Warhol continued to employ under painting or over painting during both decades. The Norgus prints have no under or over painting. Each one is identical, similar to a poster. There is not a single other instance where Warhol simply handed over acetates of his works and told someone to print them, using whatever printer they like.
4. Richard Dorment refers to Richard Ekstract as "not entirely accurate" and Paul Morrissey as "mistaken" yet cites them as sources.
Dorment relies heavily on comments by Richard Ekstract and Paul Morrissey to back up his claims, yet in paragraph 22 of "How Andy Warhol's Red Self-Portraits Were Made," he criticizes Richard Ekstract's statement as being "not entirely accurate." In paragraph 10 he notes that Paul Morrissey is "mistaken" in one important detail regarding the case. Morrissey recalls that new acetates were created for the Norgus prints whereas Dorment claims that the acetates from Warhol's original, authentic 1964 series were used to create the Norgus prints. (Wasn't Paul Morrissey supposed to be an 'eyewitness' to the deal?)
In paragraph 25 Dorment writes that he found something in Morrissey's statement that was "incomprehensible" and then goes on to re-interpret Paul's words. But who is Dorment to correct Morrissey? Paul Morrissey is an adult. If he wanted his statement corrected he would have corrected it himself. Why didn't Dorment just contact Paul and ask him to clarify his statement?
As Ekstract quotes from the Scherman/Dalton biography of the artist as a reliable source, it would be interesting to note what they say about the situation. On page 277 of their book they write, "In July of 1965, Norelco loaned a prototype of the first home video camera to Warhol for promotional purposes. It was futuristic-looking and expensive (they ran around $5,000)." In other words, Norelco loaned Warhol the equipment in exchange for his promotion of the equipment. There is no mention of a trade involving Self-Portraits. This is backed up by Warhol's own statement in Popism (via Pat Hackett) that the "idea was for me to show it to my 'rich friends' (It sold for around five thousand dollars) and sort of get them to buy one." (POP119) Popism continues, "The party for the machine was held underground... Also being promoted at this party was a magazine called Tape that was just starting up - and just finishing up, too, as it turned out... it never caught on." (POP119-120)
If the Norgus prints were as "groundbreaking" as Dorment alleges, why weren't they mentioned in Popism or, for that matter, in any essays or biographies about Warhol or his art? Why would Andy Warhol want to keep the supposedly "groundbreaking" Norgus prints a secret?
5. Richard Dorment gives a false impression that there are audiotapes on which Warhol agrees to trade Self-Portraits for the extension of a loan of video equipment.
Beginning with paragraph three, Dorment gives the impression that there are audiotapes which back up his claim that Warhol "agreed to appear on the cover of the first issue of Ekstract’s magazine Tape Recording and to be interviewed about the new machine" in exchange for the loan of the Norelco equipment, or rather the extension of the loan. This is incorrect. At no point on the audiotapes does Warhol suggest trading paintings for an extension on the loan of video equipment.
Dorment also claims that Warhol confirmed that that the initial loan of the equipment was for "only one week" on Tape #1241. Again, Dorment is incorrect. Warhol actually says on the tape that they are letting him use the equipment for "one month."
6. Film footage and photographs of Ekstract's party and magazine do not show any of the questionable self-portraits on display as Richard Dorment infers.
Richard Dorment quotes the filmmaker Bruce Torbet as saying that “Andy confided to me that he had swapped self-portraits, one of which had just been photographed[,] for the video equipment shown being used in my film.” Dorment claims that Torbet "is referring to the deal with Ekstract." There's one problem with this account. The Self-Portrait in the photo which Torbet refers to is not one of the Norgus Self-Portraits. It is a legitimate Self-Portrait from Warhol's 1964 series of Self-Portraits with different coloured backgrounds. A photograph from the same session appeared in Ekstract's magazine. In the words of collector Joe Simon-Whelan who owns one of the Norgus prints, "[Paul Morrissey] claimed that the picture in the Tape mag was one of the trades but it has been established that it was not. It was the blue linen Self-Portrait which is now in the Warhol Museum." (See here.)
There are no photos of Warhol with any of the Norgus Self-Portraits and no photos of the promotional party for Ekstract's magazine show any of the Self-Portraits on display. Dorment tries to explain that away with the feeble excuse, "that is not what the photojournalist was there to photograph." But how would Dorment know what the photographer was supposed to be photographing?
A Self-Portrait was included in photos in Ekstract's magazine, but it was a legit 1964 Self-Portrait. Why use the 1964 Self-Portrait instead of one of the Norgus prints?
The reasons given for the Norgus prints fluctuate according to the dictates of the argument. At one point Dorment seems to be arguing that the prints were done to exchange for publicity and a party. But he also claims that they were done to pay for the extension of the loan of video equipment. According to Paul Morrissey, "In order to feature Andy's image in the magazine and at the party he [Richard Ekstract] needed a picture of Andy, something in the style of Andy's earlier portraits." But if that was the reason for the Norgus prints, why were none of them included in Ekstract's magazine or in pictures of the party?
7. Dorment's claim that Andy Warhol was so poor in 1965 that he had to trade 10 Self-Portraits for the use of a video camera is absurd.
In paragraph six, Dorment quotes from the Sherman/Dalton biography of the artist in regard to Warhol's income. He notes that in 1965 Andy Warhol Enterprises earned $47,153.66. Warhol's expenses were $47,040.89, making his net income $112.77. Dorment writes, "Seen in the context of this financial background, Richard Ekstract's importance can hardly be exaggerated" and he then goes on to exaggerate Ekstract's importance. The inference is that Warhol was so poor at the time that giving away ten self-portraits to Ekstract and his cronies in exchange for an extension on the loan of Norelco video equipment made perfect sense. (Yes, Warhol sometimes traded paintings for services or gave paintings to friends - a not uncommon practice among artists - but there isn't a single other instance of him creating and giving away a whole series of paintings in exchange for goods or services.)
It's clear from Scherman/Dalton's account that Warhol was filtering his living expenses through his company in order to keep his net taxable income as low as possible. It is not an uncommon practice. It's the gross income figure that is the most important indicator of Warhol's wealth. The $47,153.66 he received as income in 1965 would be equal to more than $300,000 today. Not a bad income for an artist at the time. And Scherman/Dalton's figures do not take into consideration Warhol's personal bank account or other assets, such as the townhouse that he lived in.
Dorment quotes Warhol as saying the Norelco camera was worth about $15,000. In reality the actual retail value of the equipment was closer to the $5,000 figure given in Popism and the Scherman/Dalton biography. The retail price of the camera was $3, 950.00. (See here.)
But Warhol wasn't buying the equipment. He was borrowing it. The rental of the equipment would have been a lot less than the retail price. Yet Dorment would have us believe that Warhol traded ten Self-Portraits for a loan of the equipment - or rather an extension to the original loan of the camera. The camera had been loaned to Warhol for free. Trading ten Self-Portraits for an extension of a free loan of video equipment seems highly unlikely. There is no paperwork relating to such a deal in the archives of The Warhol museum.
As I stated in "What Andy Warhol Didn't Do," Ekstract's magazine had more to gain from Warhol appearing on the cover of than Warhol did by being on the cover. It was a new magazine just starting up and promotion of of the first issue was particularly important. Normally, an artist is paid for his endorsement of a product. Dorment would have us believe that Warhol, in effect, paid for the privilege of publicizing the Norelco equipment by creating an entirely new series of Self-Portraits and giving them away. In regard to the theory that the prints were made to pay for an extension on the loan of the Norelco equipment, why would Warhol pay for such an extension with ten Self-Portraits, particularly given that the equipment was loaned to Warhol at no charge originally? Yes, Warhol says on audiotapes that he would like to keep the equipment, but nowhere on the tapes or anywhere else does he ever mention trading Self-Portraits for an extended loan of the equipment.