A federal Judge in New York has ruled that the decision of the Keith Haring Foundation that 111 works were inauthentic does not violate antitrust laws. It is the latest in a number of legal dramas involving the foundation.
Internationally acclaimed in his own lifetime, work by Keith Haring (1958-1990) is among the most sought after in the contemporary art market. In 1988 Haring was diagnosed with AIDS, and set up the Keith Haring Foundation a year later to help fund AIDS charities as well as to promote his work and licence the use of his images. He bequeathed to it his collection of his own art as well as copyright and trademarks.
In 2007 Elizabeth Bilinski sought confirmation from the Foundation that her collection of Haring works were authentic. The Foundation concluded that the works were not authentic, which nullified the potential $40-million collective valuation of the works.
When Bilinski later submitted what she considered to be more evidence of authenticity – including scientific analysis performed by Art Access & Research – the Foundation refused to reconsider its decision. The report found that “no materials of undoubted introduction post-dating the death of Haring in 1990 were detected.” They also said that experts at Sotheby’s believed the works to be authentic, but the auction house had declined to sell them without the Foundation’s approval.
In March 2013, the collectors tried to sell the works themselves through an exhibition in Miami. The Foundation brought an injunction against the exhibition’s organisers, saying that the overwhelming majority of works in the show “are not genuine Haring artworks. Rather they are fakes, forgeries, counterfeits and/or infringements.” The case settled, and all but ten of the works were removed from the show along with all copies of the brochure and catalogues. The latter were ordered to be destroyed.
Bilinski and eight other plaintiffs argued that the publicity surrounding this lawsuit had meant that they could not sell their works, and started litigation proceedings shortly afterwards. They accused the Foundation of conspiring with “allies” to monopolise the Haring market and increase the value of the Foundation’s own holdings of Haring’s work, which it sells to earn income. They also argued that the Foundation’s 2007 decision that the works were inauthentic was made without properly reviewing provenance information.
The court did not accept this and dismissed the lawsuit, saying: “Under the theory advanced in the Complaint, any refusal by an auction house, dealer, or gallery to sell a Haring without authentication by the Foundation could be a conspiratorial act… The decision by any individual entity not to sell artwork that may not be authentic is an act consistent with lawful, independent action”. The full judgment can be read here.
The Haring Foundation has now ceased all their authentication activities. In 2012 it released this statement: “After careful consideration, the trustees came to the conclusion that the public and the Foundation’s charitable mission would be better served if the resources presently required for the operation of the authentication committee were redirected to purposes more directly related to the charitable goals designated by the Foundation’s founder, the artist Keith Haring. The Foundation is exploring the development of a catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work.”