In 1964, Andy Warhol gave the conceptual artist Elaine Sturtevant one of his silkscreens so she could produce her own versions of his Flowers paintings. In 1968, the painter Richard Pettibone photographed one of Warhol’s Marilyns and then made a miniature silkscreen painting of it. In 1985, the appropriation artist Mike Bidlo produced the painting, Not Warhol, Sixteen Silver Marilyns. More recently, the artists Charles Lutz, Louis Waldon, and Paul Stephenson were busy silkscreening Warhol canvases of their own.
What motivated these artists?
Two of them (Sturtevant and Bidlo) made paintings that intentionally questioned the notion of what makes an original work of art. In other cases, the artists were simply interested in paying homage to Andy Warhol. Then, there’s the Los Angeles painter Dan Douke, who ran off a small group of classic 40” x 40” Marilyn canvases. To paraphrase Douke’s explanation, “I just wanted to own a Warhol Marilyn.”
All of the above artists signed their names to the back of their creations. As far as I know, no one was trying to be deceitful. With that in mind, the question is why are there so many fake Warhol paintings?
The short answer is because they’re relatively easy to duplicate, especially for someone with artistic training. For example, the image used for Warhol’s Marilyn series is a promotional film still for the movie Niagara (1953). At this point, enough time has passed for the image to be in the public domain. That means anyone can duplicate it and have it transferred onto a professional silkscreen acetate — and then run off a painting.
Where things get complicated is when you get into the often overly-complex provenances which accompany Warhol forgeries. Some of the backstories are works of art in their own right. We were once shown a Warhol which allegedly belonged to a “royal family” in the Middle East. What made it almost comical was an official letter of support, signed by “her highness,” that accompanied the painting. It was written on expensive stationery, complete with an embossed gold seal, and some rather impressive rubber stamps. After a handful of other similar experiences, it led me to conclude that when it comes to art authentication, the more elaborate the backstory, the more likely the painting is a fake.