The appointment of Vincent Fremont as CEO at ARTnews ltd, the company that owns Art in America, Art News and other leading art related publications has raised a number of eyebrows. This gives Fremont control of a major chunk of the serious art press. But should this man, considered flawed by many, with his tainted dealings, as the exclusive sales agent for the Warhol foundation (AWF) be given such an influential post? Here’s what the Artbytch has uncovered.
Vincent Fremont’s position as sales agent, first for the Warhol estate (1987-1990) then as exclusive agent for the Warhol Foundation (1990-2010) is steeped in controversy. Artlyst has been shown evidence that a quantity of Warhol paintings confiscated by Vincent Fremont during his tenure in 1991, some bearing forged signatures, were reclassified as authentic and then sold on by Fremont and the Warhol Foundation.
Fremont was ousted from his job after it emerged in a U.S. Federal Court during the 2010 ‘Joe Simon vs. Andy Warhol Foundation’ case that he confiscated a number of posthumous works from an offsite factory with ‘forged signatures’. This offsite factory had created thousands of Warhol’s from 1977- 1987 whilst the artist was alive and the printers had kept the silk screens as well as the acetates which Warhol had created. In his letter to the estate of the offsite printer, dated Sept 25, 1991 Fremont wrote that ‘because of the similarity of the paintings to authentic works by Andy Warhol, their releases might threaten the integrity of the art market and Andy Warhol’s reputation.’
In 2003 a number of these artworks were presented to the Warhol Authentication Board who deemed the confiscated work fakes or made without the artist’s knowledge. The authentication board stated that the paintings were created under false circumstances, Neil Printz, one of the board members said he would be happier if they weren’t signed. However, Fremont admitted that some of the pieces were later authenticated and sold.
Despite this admission, which could be construed as fraud, dozens of Warhol’s, some worth 7 figure sums, were sold. The proceeds of these sales went to the Warhol Foundation, with Fremont taking his hefty commission, as agent. The NY district attorney or the attorney general has not investigated these allegations, despite a growing list of questionable Warhol paintings and prints on the open market or Fremont’s admission of guilt in a U.S. Federal case. The Warhol Foundation’s CFO K.C. Maurer admitted that the Warhol Foundation President Joel Wachs needed to approve each sale. Was this ever implemented?
The last time Fremont was investigated by the Attorney General’s office, in 1996, he was asked to return his expenses to the Foundation and cap his salary at $950,000 per year. This represented a commission of between 6% -10%. Under oath, Fremont described the Attorney General’s investigation as “an insignificant event”. He merely skirted around the settlement agreement with the officials simply by ‘rolling over’ any commissions into the following year. When asked under oath how much he was owed, Fremont replied ‘around $4-5 million’ but was unsure. Warhol Foundation’s CFO Kathleen C. Maurer thought it could be in the region of $25 million but again, despite her $365,131 a year salary at the charitable foundation, was unsure. According to the latest tax return filed by the Foundation, Fremont is still receiving $950,000, despite having been made redundant several years ago.
In 2010, Fremont was let go by the Foundation and Christie’s auctioneers were recruited to sell the remaining surplus works in the Foundation’s inventory (value listed on their last tax return at approximately $130 million) however the valuation was made by its CFO Kathleen .C. Maurer, whose former job was managing the budget for the space station at Nasa and she admitted under oath that she has no previous experience in art and learned how to value paintings at home, studying Christie’s auction catalogues.
The Warhol Foundation was created to endow the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh as well as provide support for artists, scholars and galleries. Much of it has been funded by the sale of 95,000 art works from Warhol’s estate. The Warhol Authentication Board was created by Foundation Directors in 1995 to ensure favourable price control for Warhol artwork. The catalogue raisonne has replaced the authentication board in this endeavour, with former authentication board members Neil Printz and Sally King-Nero as its co-editors. During a Foundation meeting to discuss the catalogue raisonne, the meeting notes reflect that ‘the project will contribute to the stabilisation of the market for Warhol works over time, thus having a direct benefit to the Foundation’s long-term goal of converting its Warhol works to cash at favourable prices’
It is open to question why Vincent Fremont was able to hold onto his exclusive sales position for so long. According to the Foundation’s latest tax return, the amount of commission the Warhol Foundation had paid on the sale of artwork was $65,363. Quite a difference from the millions Fremont had been collecting over a 23 year period.
It is also unclear why Mr. Fremont has been offered his new position as CEO of artnews ltd, which is listed on the stock exchange and owned by a leading Warhol collector, Peter Brant. With no previous experience running a publishing empire, and having admitted to selling paintings which have been deemed fakes with forged signatures, one would assume Mr. Fremont would be in the sights of Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Mr. Bharara recently stated that he wished to focus more on art crime!