The Convoluted World of Keith Haring

STORY BY Reyne Hirsch

Published: February 23, 2014

There are “experts” for everything these days.  If you own a European car, there are experts to work on it.  If you want to collect coins, there is an expert that grades them.  If you want to collect Keith Haring, there is a group of experts to authenticate them.  Well, maybe.

Nine collectors of art by renowned artist, Keith Haring are currently suing the group of experts (otherwise known as the Keith Haring Foundation) responsible for determining what is/and what isn’t authentic in the world of Haring’s artwork. 

The suit is based on the foundation “wrongfully destroying” the value of their various works of art, some without being inspected in person or obtaining provenance.  Several of the pieces were owned by friends of Haring’s who purportedly acquired them direct from the artist. 

In 2007, the group began acquiring works and submitted images of them to the foundation.  Having authentication documents from experts such as the foundation would make it easier for them to be consigned to auction or to sell privately.  They were told by the foundation 1-2 works could be authenticated, but only if they were to donate 10 to the foundation. The foundation closed its authentication division in 2012.

In May 2013, the collectors put together a show in Miami exhibiting approximately 90 works of art by Haring, only to have their exhibit shut down by the foundation. The foundation stated by having the “fake” works in the marketplace would greatly reduce the value of authentic pieces.

The group stands by their collection noting the foundation has something to gain by keeping new works out of the marketplace.  If more art is made available to buyers, the value of pieces in private collections/museums would be reduced.  The foundation had sold $4.6 million in works by Haring from 2008-2011.

The lawsuit is seeking $40 million in damages as the owners of the collection no longer have the ability to put the items in the market for sale.  Brian Kerr, the lawyer for the plaintiffs noted “This case is not only about the Keith Haring Foundation, but also the art world in general and how it operates.”

It will be interesting to see how this plays out…


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