LOS ANGELES (CN) — An art gallery devoted to Andy Warhol’s works has sued a husband and wife who the gallery owner claims sold him two forged Warhol paintings through eBay for $80,000.
The Superior Court lawsuit from the Revolver Gallery accuses Brian and Ana Walshe of passing off “clever forgeries” of two scarce pieces from Warhol’s series of silkscreened works called “Shadows” by claiming they were worth at least $100,000 and as much as $240,000.
When gallery owner Ron Rivlin received the pieces, however, he says he discovered that promised authentication stamps on their backs were nonexistent, the supporting documentation was phony and the canvas on which the presumably 38-year-old works were printed was new.
“The forgeries appear to be quite recent,” according to the complaint, and probably copies of authentic originals.
“Brian and Ana Walshe likely sold the authentic Warhols to a collector in South Korea and passed off the forgeries in the United States assuming that because the paintings are on different continents, the forgeries would not be detected,” the complaint states.
According to the March 30 lawsuit, Brian Walshe “purports to be variously an international art dealer, an art collector, or an art consultant … from a prominent family in Boston.”
Ana Walshe is a Boston hotel executive. Reached at her office, she declined comment.
Plaintiff Greenroute LLC dba Revolver says it “has the largest gallery-owned Warhol collection in the world.” Among the pieces is the late artist’s 1974 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow, according to a news release describing the gallery’s March opening at a new outlet in Santa Monica.
Rivlin is a former hip-hop promoter and “serial entrepreneur” from Canada, according to the statement. He opened his gallery in 2012, began his Warhol collection that December and now has more than 200 pieces, including the Rolls.
Last fall, the Walshes listed two “Shadow” paintings on eBay for $100,000, the gallery says in the 10-page complaint. The listing said they had bought the pieces from an art dealer for $240,000 but were “forced to sell them at a loss to remodel their home.”
The listing included a copy of the Walshes’ purchase invoice, a document indicating that Christie’s Auction House had valued the pieces at $120,000 to $180,000 at auction and a statement that the works were “registered with the Warhol Foundation with numbers PA65.049 & PA65.032,” according to the complaint.
“Shadows” is a series of 102 silkscreened canvases “all based upon a photograph of items in Warhol’s studio,” Revolver says.
Warhol produced the prints — 6 feet tall by 4 feet wide, in various colors — in 1978-79. They were intended to be displayed edge to edge in a long row snaking around and across gallery walls. A full installation needs 442 linear feet of wall, according to a Los Angeles Times review of a 2014 showing.
The review described the pieces as “enigmatic blurs of dark and light in various colors” and quotes Warhol deriding them as “disco décor.” About a 1979 showing, Warhol wrote, “The show only looks good because it’s so big,” according to the Times.
Most of the 102 canvases are owned by a foundation, “but a small number of them are in private hands,” Revolver says. Those few privately owned pieces “are highly sought after and very valuable.”
So Rivlin contacted the Walshes, who supplied him with additional authenticating documents about their two Shadows prints, including an invoice from the gallery where they said they had purchased the pieces. The invoice “showed the name of a different buyer than the Walshes, but Brian Walshe informed Mr. Rivlin … that the name on the invoice was his former partner and that, when they split up, the Walshes got the Warhols as part of their interest in the partnership,” the complaint states.
Rivlin agreed to buy the paintings for $80,000.
When they arrived, he discovered that they had been framed with a backing that covered “the area on which the [Warhol] Foundation’s Stamps of Authentication were purportedly placed.” When the backing was removed, there were no such stamps, the lawsuit states.
Revolver’s personnel saw that the canvas was new rather than from 1979, and a $250,000 insurance policy on the pieces turned out to be a quote for insurance, not a policy, the gallery says. It adds that a document stating that another art gallery had authenticated the works “was entirely manufactured and not actually issued by the … gallery.”
In fact, Revolver says in its lawsuit, “none of the documents were what Brian Walshe had represented them to be.”
Rivlin contacted the police and the Walshes. Brian and Ana Walshe promised to repay his $80,000, the gallery says, but have made only two partial payments totaling $30,000.
When they learned he had reported them to law enforcement, “the Walshes notified Revolver that they refused to repay any more of the money in retaliation for the reporting,” the gallery says.
Revolver’s attorney Jonathan Deer, with Turner, Aubert & Friedman in Los Angeles, said he could not comment without his client’s permission.
The gallery seeks $51,000 in damages plus punitive damages for fraud, negligent misrepresentation, conversion and breach of contract.